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Highsmith, Patricia

(US, 1921–95)

Patricia Highsmith is the mother of the modern psychological suspense novel, once described by Graham Greene as ‘a poet of apprehension’. In a series of often grim and always unflinching tales, she explored the psychology of guilt and the impact of love and crime on the individual. In spite of the darkness of her work, it is often shot through with shafts of dry wit. Her spare style heightens the chilling atmosphere of her novels. Often, she chooses a sensational jumping-off point for her novels. For example, her debut, Strangers on a Train (1950), notably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, depicted two men who meet by chance and ‘swap’ murders, a set-up that escalates into a swirling drama of psychopathy and terror. Her second novel, The Price of Salt (1953), a lesbian love story, was first published under a pseudonym and reissued as Carol in 1991. Again, it is interesting for the depth of the psychological insight. She returned to crime with perhaps her most famous novel, The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), adapted most successfully for film by Anthony Minghella. Tom Ripley is a charming psychopath and con man who ‘steals’ other people's lives and somehow manages to extricate himself from the consequences of his murderous activities. Ripley features in four further novels. For a perfect demonstration of black humour, turn to her short story collection, The Animal Lover's Book of Beastly Murder (1975).

Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine), Minette Walters, Josephine Tey.


Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Ha-Ke)