The Ripley Series

I love series books. Reading a masterful series, I get to follow characters as they grow, or at least learn more about them in each successive book.

Since time is short. I’m going to post reviews about great series’ rather than about single books.


Meet Tom Ripley, from Patricia Highsmith’s ingenious, bewitching, and disturbing series.

The books are, in chronological order, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water.

First, the thoroughly delightful part.

When I daydream of going to Europe and realize I’m not likely to get there soon, I can read about or remember the Ripley books and Highsmith takes me there. She is a master of what I’ll call casual detail. Particulars of scenery, home furnishings and such as well as character features and expressions draw me so intimately into Ripley’s world, I can sometimes feel slightly ashamed for intruding. And the pictures she creates weave so intricately into the story, they become subtle but effective counterpoint to the extreme tension and suspense Ms. Highsmith’s intricate plots and Ripley’s outrageous actions invoke.

As in:

“He looked at the French windows, and chose to walk past them and go into Mme Antoinette’s realm, the kitchen in the front left corner of the house. A smell of complex vegetable soup greeted his nostrils.
“Mme Antoinette, in a polka-dot blue and white dress and a blue apron was stirring something at the stove.
“‘Good evening, madame?’
“‘M’sieur Tome! Bon Soir.’
“‘And what is the main dish this evening?’
“‘Noisettes de veau — but not the big ones, because it’s a warm evening.’

“In front of him was the lane, barely visible through some pear and apple trees and low bushes that grew wild. Down this unpaved way, he had once wheeled Murchison in a barrow in order to bury him — temporarily. Also through this lane an occasional farmer still drove a small tractor toward the main streets of Villeperce, or appeared out of nowhere with a barrow full of horse manure or tied-up kindling. The lane belonged to no one. “

A caution, in case you missed a line in the previous paragraph: Ripley books are probably not for the faint-hearted. Aside from being captivating entertainments, they are also studies of what most folks deem a psychopath.

But for earnest students of human nature, the Ripley books are essential. Whatever label we choose to give Tom Ripley, he offers us a glimpse deep into human nature. Into what I suspect any of us could become. Ripley is a “there but for fortune” alert. Because Tom is by no means the only “wicked” character in the books. When he admits his crimes to friends, though their first reaction may be shock, they hardly act appalled. In fact, should their practical or financial interest and Ripley’s coincide, they seem quite agreeable to letting him proceed or perhaps assisting with his dark intrigues. Even his bitterest, most upright enemies aren’t above getting bought off.

Those who believe humans are inherently not so bad, please read and contemplate the Ripley books and ask yourself, “So how bad are we?”

By the way, I write a series of my own