One of the great crime novels of the th century, Patricia Highsmith s The Talented Mr Ripley is a blend of the narrative subtlety of Henry James and the self reflexive irony of Vladimir Nabokov Like the best modernist fiction, Ripley works on two levels First, it is the story of a young man, Tom Ripley, whose nihilistic tendencies lead him on a deadly passage across Europe On another level, the novel is a commentary on fictionmaking and techniques of narrative persuasion Like Humbert Humbert, Tom Ripley seduces readers into empathizing with him even as his actions defy all moral standards The novel begins with a play on James s The Ambassadors Tom Ripley is chosen by the wealthy Herbert Greenleaf to retrieve Greenleaf s son, Dickie, from his overlong sojourn in Italy Dickie, it seems, is held captive both by the Mediterranean climate and the attractions of his female companion, but Mr Greenleaf needs him back in New York to help with the family business With an allowance and a new purpose, Tom leaves behind his dismal city apartment to begin his career as a return escort But Tom, too, is captivated by Italy He is also taken with the life and looks of Dickie Greenleaf He insinuates himself into Dickie s world and soon finds that his passion for a lifestyle of wealth and sophistication transcends moral compunction Tom will become Dickie Greenleaf at all costs Unlike many modernist experiments, The Talented Mr Ripley is eminently readable and is driven by a gripping chase narrative that chronicles each of Tom s calculated maneuvers of self preservation Highsmith was in peak form with this novel, and her ability to enter the mind of a sociopath and view the world through his disturbingly amoral eyes is a model that has spawned such latter day serial killers as Hannibal Lecter Patrick O KelleyTom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way Tom walked faster There was no doubt the man was after him Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from a table, as if he weren t quite sure, but almost He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get outAt the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across Fifth Avenue There was Raoul s Should he take a chance and go in for another drink Tempt fate and all that Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him in a few dark doorways He went into Raoul sAutomatically, as he strolled to an empty space at the bar, he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew There was the big man with red hair, whose name he always forgot, sitting at a table with a blonde girl The red haired man waved a hand, and Tom s hand went up limply in response He slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness Gin and tonic, please, he said to the barmanWas this the kind of man they would send after him Was he, wasn t he, was he He didn t look like a policeman or a detective at all He looked like a businessman, somebody s father, well dressed, well fed, greying at the temples an air of uncertainty about him Was that the kind they sent on a job like this, maybe to start chatting with you in a bar, and then bang the hand on the shoulder, the other hand displaying a policeman s badge Torn Ripley, you re under arrest Tom watched the doorHere he came The man looked around, saw him and immediately looked away He removed his straw hat, and took a place around the curve of the barMy God, what did he want He certainly wasn t a pervert, Tom thought for the second time, though now his tortured brain groped and produced the actual word, as if the word could protect him, because he would rather the man be a pervert than a policeman To a pervert, he could simply say, No, thank you, and smile and walk away Tom slid back on the stool, bracing himselfTom saw the man make a gesture of postponement to the barman, and come around the bar towards him Here it was Tom stared at him, paralysed They couldn t give youthan ten years, Tom thought Maybe fifteen, but with good conduct In the instant the man s lips parted to speak, Tom had a pang of desperate, agonized regret Pardon me, are you Tom Ripley Yes My name is Herbert Greenleaf Richard Greenleaf s father The expression on his face wasconfusing to Tom than if he had focused a gun on him The face was friendly, smiling and hopeful You re a friend of Richard s, aren t you It made a faint connection in his brain Dickie Greenleaf A tall blond fellow He had quite a bit of money, Tom remembered Oh, Dickie Greenleaf Yes At any rate, you know Charles and Marta Schriever They re the ones who told me about you, that you might uh Do you think we could sit down at a table Yes, Tom said agreeably, and picked up his drink He followed the man towards an empty table at the back of the little room Reprieved, he thought Free Nobody was going to arrest him This was about something else No matter what it was, it wasn t grand larceny or tampering with the mails or whatever they called it Maybe Richard was in some kind of jam Maybe Mr Greenleaf wanted help, or advice Tom knew just what to say to a father like Mr Greenleaf I wasn t quite sure you were Tom Ripley, Mr Greenleaf said I ve seen you only once before, I think Didn t you come up to the house once with Richard I think I did The Schrievers gave me a description of you, too We ve all been trying to reach you, because the Schrievers wanted us to meet at their house Somebody told them you went to the Green Cage bar now and then This is the first night I ve tried to find you, so I suppose I should consider myself lucky He smiled I wrote you a letter last week, but maybe you didn t get it No, I didn t Marc wasn t forwarding his mail, Tom thought Damn him Maybe there was a cheque there from Auntie Dottie I moved a week or so ago, Tom added Oh, I see I didn t say much in my letter Only that I d like to see you and have a chat with you The Schrievers seemed to think you knew Richard quite well I remember him, yes But you re not writing to him now He looked disappointed No I don t think I ve seen Dickie for a couple of years He s been in Europe for two years The Schrievers spoke very highly of you, and thought you might have some influence on Richard if you were to write to him I want him to come home He has responsibilities here but just now he ignores anything that I or his mother try to tell him Tom was puzzled Just what did the Schrievers say They said apparently they exaggerated a little that you and Richard were very good friends I suppose they took it for granted you were writing him all along You see, I know so few of Richard s friends anyHe glanced at Tom s glass, as if he would have liked to offer him a drink, at least, but Tom s glass was nearly fullTom remembered going to a cocktail party at the Schrievers with Dickie Greenleaf Maybe the Greenleafs werefriendly with the Schrievers than he was, and that was how it had all come about, because he hadn t seen the Schrieversthan three or four times in his life And the last time, Tom thought, was the night he had worked out Charley Schriever s income tax for him Charley was a TV director, and he had been in a complete muddle with his free lance accounts Charley had thought he was a genius for having doped out his tax and made it lower than the one Charley had arrived at, and perfectly legitimately lower Maybe that was what had prompted Charley s recommendation of him to Mr Greenleaf Judging him from that night, Charley could have told Mr Greenleaf that he was intelligent, level headed, scrupulously honest, and very willing to do a favour It was a slight error I don t suppose you know of anybody else close to Richard who might be able to wield a little influence Mr Greenleaf asked rather pitifullyThere was Buddy Lankenau, Tom thought, but he didn t want to wish a chore like this on Buddy I m afraid I don t, Tom said, shaking his head Why won t Richard come home He says he prefers living over there But his mother s quite ill right now Well, those are family problems I m sorry to annoy you like this He passed a hand in a distraught way over his thin, neatly combed grey hair He says he s painting There s no harm in that, but he hasn t the talent to be a painter He s got great talent for boat designing, though, if he d just put his mind to it He looked up as a waiter spoke to him Scotch and soda, please Dewar s You re not ready No, thanks, Tom saidMr Greenleaf looked at Tom apologetically You re the first of Richard s friends who s even been willing to listen They all take the attitude that I m trying to interfere with his life Tom could easily understand that I certainly wish I could help, he said politely He remembered now that Dickie s money came from a shipbuilding company Small sailing boats No doubt his father wanted him to come home and take over the family firm Tom smiled at Mr Greenleaf, meaninglessly, then finished his drink Tom was on the edge of his chair, ready to leave, but the disappointment across the table was almost palpable Where is he staying in Europe Tom asked, not caring a damn where he was staying In a town called Mongibello, south of Naples There s not even a library there, he tells me Divides his time between sailing and painting He s bought a house there Richard has his own income nothing huge, but enough to live on in Italy, apparently Well, every man to his own taste, but I m sure I can t see the attractions of the place Mr Greenleaf smiled bravely Can t I offer you a drink, Mr Ripley he asked when the waiter came with his Scotch and sodaTom wanted to leave But he hated to leave the man sitting alone with his fresh drink Thanks, I think I will, he said, and handed the waiter his glass Charley Schriever told me you were in the insurance business, Mr Greenleaf said pleasantly That was a little while ago I But he didn t want to say he was working for the Department of Internal Revenue, not now I m in the accounting department of an advertising agency at the moment Oh Neither said anything for a minute Mr Greenleaf s eyes were fixed on him with a pathetic, hungry expression What on earth could he say Tom was sorry he had accepted the drink How old is Dickie now, by the way he asked He s twenty five So am I, Tom thought, Dickie was probably having the time of his life over there An income, a house, a boat Why should he want to come home Dickie s face was becoming clearer in his memory he had a big smile, blondish hair with crisp waves in it, a happy go lucky face Dickie was lucky What was he himself doing at twenty five Living from week to week No bank account Dodging cops now for the first time in his life He had a talent for mathematics Why in hell didn t they pay him for it, somewhere Tom realized that all his muscles had tensed, that the matchcover in his fingers was mashed sideways, nearly flat He was bored, God damned bloody bored, bored, bored He wanted to be back at the bar, by himselfTom took a gulp of his drink I d be very glad to write to Dickie, if you give me his address, he said quickiy I suppose he ll remember me We were at a weekend party once out on Long Island, I remember Dickie and I went out and gathered mussels, and everyone had them for breakfast Tom smiled A couple of us got sick, and it wasn t a very good party But I remember Dickie talking that week end about going to Europe He must have left just I remember Mr

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