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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-08-20 19:02
The Pathologically Insecure Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

This was both my first introduction to Tom Ripley, and my first introduction to Patricia Highsmith. I was somewhat aware of the story before I started the book, although I'd neither seen the movie nor read any of the Ripley novels. I knew going in that Tom Ripley was a sociopath and a murderer.


What I didn't realize was that this book was a "retelling" (of sorts) of The Ambassadors by Henry James. Highsmith reveals this early, with overt references to the James novel. Mr. Greenleaf, father of Dickie Greenleaf, makes the fatal error of commissioning Tom Ripley to go to Italy and retrieve his son from the dissipated life of an American ex pat. Sadly for both Dickie and his father, Dickie is a man of independent means, so he cannot be forced him by turning off the money spigot. 


Italy in the 1950's was, apparently, a relatively inexpensive place for a young man of some means and no ambition to while away his days as a dabbler. Dickie Greenleaf has a talent for leisure, if no talent for painting.



Image result for italy in the 1950's


Italy in the 1950's.


Image result for italy in the 1950's


Como, 1954


Tom Ripley, on the other hand, had a talent for mimicry, and little else. I had expected him to be charismatic, but, as it turns out, he was just a nonentity. Whatever personality he possessed came only from an alcohol-induced haze. Because of this, he was pathologically insecure. 


One of the things that struck me about Highsmith's writing is how visceral her description of the act of murder was. With the exception of murder by firearm, murder is a taxing physical act. Highsmith doesn't just "tell" the reader about the murder. She shows the reader the heat, the blood, the exhaustion, and the terror that is experienced by her characters. It is brutal and revolting.


From there, things really just disintegrate. Tom Ripley seems to operate on a knife's edge between merely disturbed and completely unhinged. His internal dialogue is often incredibly creepy.


Alone again, Tom returned to his private reveries. He ought to open a bank account for Tom Ripley, he thought, and from time to time put a hundred dollars or so into it. Dickie Greenleaf had two banks, one in Naples and one in New York, with about five thousand dollars in each account. He might open the Ripley account with a couple of thousand, and put into it the hundred and fifty thousand lire from the Mongibello furniture. After all, he had two people to take care of.




His psyche seems to be fragile.


He definitely wanted to see Greece. He wanted to see Greece as Dickie Greenleaf with Dickie’s money, Dickie’s clothes, Dickie’s way of behaving with strangers. But would it happen that he couldn’t see Greece as Dickie Greenleaf? Would one thing after another come up to thwart him—murder, suspicion, people? He hadn’t wanted to murder, it had been a necessity. The idea of going to Greece, trudging over the Acropolis as Tom Ripley, American tourist, held no charm for him at all. He would as soon not go.


Like Broken Tune, I'm of two minds about Ripley's great escape. On the one hand, I certainly don't sympathize with Tom Ripley and I wasn't rooting for him. On the other hand, it was interesting to watch his mind work, and I can see how he could have fooled the Italian authorities in 1955.


Based on this book, I slot Highsmith into the category of Shirley Jackson - incredibly talented woman who writes disturbed characters disturbingly well. I am wondering if anyone has read Ripley Underground, or any of the other Ripley follow-ups. I'm considering it for Halloween Bingo! 


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text 2017-08-20 03:16
Reading progress update: I've read 217 out of 285 pages.
The Talented Mr. Ripley - Patricia Highsmith

It was senseless to be despondent, anyway, even as Tom Ripley. Tom Ripley had never really been despondent, though he had often looked it. Hadn’t he learned something from these last months? If you wanted to be cheerful, or melancholic, or wistful, or thoughtful, or courteous, you simply had to act those things with every gesture.


Tom Ripley is a deeply disturbed individual. I keep flashing to various eps of Criminal Minds/CSI while I'm reading.

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review 2017-08-19 01:11
The Crime Coast by Elizabeth Gill
The Crime Coast: A Benvenuto Brown Mystery - Elizabeth Gill

This is one of three golden age mysteries published by Elizabeth Gill, a largely forgotten author who published her first book - this one - in 1931. She published only 3 mysteries because she passed away unexpectedly at 32. All three of her books have been reissued by Dean Street Press, and are available from amazon for only $1.99.


I was, frankly, lukewarm about her main character, Benvenuto Brown, amateur sleuth and brilliant artist. Perhaps he will grow on me during the course of the remaining two books.


However, while I didn't really become attached to Ben Brown, I really liked Paul Ashby, a young London lawyer who finds himself embroiled in a mystery. He is trying to locate a young artist, Adrian, on behalf of his father, whom he has met and who gave him the strange commission before leaving London for the French Riviera. Paul meets and falls in with Adelaide Moon on the train from Paris to Marseille, an alluring young woman who is known to associate with Adrian.


As the story progresses, Adrian is accused of murdering his former lover, who is discovered completely nude except for a whole bunch of jewels. Shortly thereafter, Adrian disappears, and Ben, Paul and Adelaide attempt to solve the murder to clear Adrian's name, while Paul becomes increasingly enamored of the fair Adelaide. 


“As leading ladies say on first nights, this is the happiest moment of my life,” he murmured, watching blue smoke vanish into the blue air. “It’s the sort of thing one dreams about on a wet, grey day in London—only better. I’ve never had the imagination to dream of such a day as this or such a boat, or—or you,” he added, only so low that he thought perhaps she hadn’t heard.


Gill has a gift for descriptive writing, evoking the beautiful turquoise sea of the Riviera with gems like this:


“Can you dive with your eyes open?” she said. He nodded, and in a second she was a red bird skimming through the air, a moment later a goldfish in the translucent depths. It was a good dive, and Paul pulled himself together—she was watching him. He went in neatly and for cool moments of silence saw the green world slide past his eyes, saw the smooth stones of the ocean bed, and fish that flickered and vanished mysteriously, before he shot up into the dazzling sunshine.

There is a classic reveal at the end of the story, with Ben explaining all to his rapt listeners. The mystery relies on a great deal of coincidence, as these golden age mysteries often do, but it is an enjoyable, and surprising, whodunnit, nonetheless.
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review 2017-08-18 01:41
Grey Mask (Miss Silver, #1)
Grey Mask - Patricia Wentworth

I've always been familiar with the name Patricia Wentworth as one of those Golden Age authors omnipresent on my mom's bookshelves, but I had no idea at all about the books themselves.  That gave me the chance to come at this one completely fresh, with no pre-conceived notions of what I'd be getting with Miss Silver or the mystery.


The TL;DR; version is:  it's a good mystery and very good writing.  Definitely worth your time if you enjoy going back to the golden era of mystery writing and like a good female sleuth of a certain age.


To go a bit further into things, Miss Silver was in and out of the mystery, never the focal point, but she comes across as kind, if a bit condescending, with a Holmesian level of intelligence and skill for deduction.  She's obviously not new to the investigation gig, as she has her own office and an apparently long client list by the time this book starts.


There's a big element of romance in this first book that I could have done without, especially since it is coupled with a woman-in-peril theme that I'm not at all a fan of.  Margaret got on my nerves because I find it tedious when women claim independence by refusing to avail themselves of the help they need when they need it; that's not independence, that's martyrdom.  And while I liked Charles in almost all other ways, he was an idiot about Margaret.  2/3 of the way through the book I wanted to knock both their heads together.


I liked Archie, although I doubt I'd have been as charmed by him if he'd had more page time.  But Margot... well, thank god they just don't make them as stupid as they used to anymore.  Honestly she was magnificent in her vapidity; a true danger not only to herself but to all around her.  Rather than leave me constantly irritated by her stupidity though, Wentworth left me constantly gaping in incredulity at her instead.  If she had to play this card, at least she played it brilliantly.


There are a couple of twists and hints of twists throughout the story.  I nailed one of them - the identity of #40, but I totally didn't see the twist concerning Margot coming, nor Grey Mask's identity.  And I have to say, I'm not sure I can buy it.  To hind that kind of identity in plain site for so long without ever getting caught... believing that requires a suspension of disbelief that exceeds my abilities.  Towards the end he was unable to pull it off, as evidenced by yet another twist, but that whole bit felt undeveloped, like it was either tacked on, or didn't work as well as the author hoped it would.    


The ultimate fate of Grey Mask felt unsatisfactory, although amusingly karmic given his comments at the end, and I'd have liked a better explanation of Miss Silver's activities as part of the denouement, but I suppose that's a modern need to reveal the magician's tricks and I'll get over it.  I'd happily read more of the Miss Silver books, and plan to keep my eyes open for more of them in the future.  

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text 2017-08-16 05:38
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Grey Mask - Patricia Wentworth

I will have more on this tomorrow!


I wasn't at all sure what to expect with this one, but I really liked it and I'm sure I will read more Patricia Wentworth! I'm really glad I decided to participate in this quick buddy read!

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