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Patricia Highsmith, (Mary Patricia Highsmith), née Plangman Biography

(1921–95), (Mary Patricia Highsmith), née Plangman, Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr Ripley

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: John Hersey Biography to Honest Man's Revenge

American writer of mixed German and English-Scots parentage, born in Fort Worth, Texas, educated at Barnard College, New York. Her first crime novel, Strangers on a Train (1950; filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) was an immediate success, and was followed by a number of novels and short stories which are hard to categorize, but which usually involve crime; often based on a sensational idea, they are subtle psychological studies of weak characters attracted by violence, or of couples linked together by the idea of crime. Her heroes are often criminals, whom she sees as free individuals, able to escape the constraints of society: ‘Criminals are dramatically interesting, because for a time at least they are active, free in spirit, and they do not knuckle down to anyone’, she wrote. Her best-known character of this type, portrayed with a distinctive black humour, is the seemingly charming but completely amoral young American Tom Ripley, like the author, resident in France, who appeared first in The Talented Mr Ripley (1955; filmed by René Clement as Plein Soleil with Alain Delon, 1959; UK titles Purple Noon and Lust for Evil) and later in Ripley Under Ground (1970), Ripley's Game (1974), and The Boy who Followed Ripley (1980). Among her other works, not all of which are crime novels, are The Blunderer (1954; also published in the USA as Lament for a Lover), Deep Water (1957), The Two Faces of January (1964), The Glass Cell (1964), The Story-Teller (1965; UK title A Suspension of Mercy), The Tremor of Forgery (1969), Edith's Diary (1977), and People Who Knock on the Door (1983). Her last novel, Small g: A Summer Idyll (1995), is, as the title suggests, optimistic in mood and very unlike her previous work. Collections of short stories include The Snail Watcher and Other Stories (1970; UK title Eleven), Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (1979), and The Black House (1981). Critically more esteemed in France and in Britain than in America, she was called by Julian Symons ‘the most important crime writer at present in practice’.

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