As I listened to the third CD of the Ripley Mysteries – this time it was Ripley’s Game – I found myself admiring the intensity that Ian Hart brings to the role of Tom Ripley. I’m not familiar with Hart as an actor, but judging by these performances, he is truly a class act. He captures Tom’s ambiguous nature and handles the American accent (to my ear at least) flawlessly. It’s a very convincing portrayal.
I haven’t read the novel on which Ripley’s Game is based, and this may be a disadvantage. The story sees Tom becoming involved with an Englishman called Jonathan, who is induced by one of Tom’s dodgy chums, Reeves, to commit a murder. Soon a second commission is forthcoming, and Tom helps Jonathan out. Before long, the two men become quite attached to each other – with potentially disastrous results.
One of the off-putting features of Highsmith’s work to some readers is its heavy reliance on coincidence and on behaviour that seems irrational on the part of the leading characters. At her best, Highsmith(like the wonderful Ruth Rendell,whom she surely influenced) overcomes these difficulties triumphantly, and manages to say something of real interest about human relationships.
In this particular case, though, I wasn’t entirely convinced. Why would Tom pit himself not only against the forces of law and order, but also against the Mafia? He is impulsive and somewhat lacking in conscience, yes, but he isn’t stupid. I think I’ll have to read the novel to see if it seems more credible.
My own feeling is that Rendell is, overall, an even more successful and gifted writer than Highsmith. But that is to judge by the highest standard. Highsmith, for all her irritating quirks, is fascinating, and she played a crucial part in the development of the novel of psychological suspense.