Friday, September 23, 2011

Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith

The third effort in Patricia Highmith's Ripliad, Ripley's Game (1974) almost immediately follows Ripley Under Ground, though like the latter and the first novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, it is a widely different work from either.

Ripley's Game explores Ripley's further manipulations and machinations, as well as including elements of organized crime and the lengths a person is willing to go under pressure. We meet seemingly the same Ripley as in Ripley Under Ground -- slightly older, wealthy, comfortable, and living with his wife in their French country home. An old acquaintance, Reeves Minot (introduced in the last book), is an American expatriate living in Germany and attempts to hire Ripley to murder two known members of the mafia. He offers him quite a large sum of money.

Ripley is also interested in Jonathan Trevanny, a British picture framer who lives with his French wife and son in the village near Ripley's estate. Trevanny is sick with leukemia and, to Ripley's amusement and irritation, rebuffs Ripley's casual attempts at friendship, most likely because of his knowledge of the rumors about Ripley. In turn, Ripley convinces Reeves to offer the hits and money to Trevanny. Ripley increases the pressure on Trevanny by starting some local rumors that he only has a few months to live. Trevanny is suspicious and angry, but also has deep-seated feelings of guilt that he will die without being to provide for his family. Reeves brings Trevanny to Germany to see a specialist and also convinces him to accept the murder contract.

Trevanny murders the mafioso in a crowded subway station, then insists that he is quitting. Reeves once again manipulates Trevanny into murdering another, more important mafioso, this time on a train with a garrote. Ripley shows up and steps in, executing the man in Trevanny's place. This forms an unlikely, reluctant friendship between the two of them. Trevanny confides in Ripley his fears that his wife will discover what he's done and also that he won't be able to explain the money. Ripley is cooking up an explanation for all this when the Mafia unexpectedly turn up and he has to ask Trevanny for help. Simone, Trevanny's increasingly cold and suspicious wife finds out what they are up to and also gets involved. Can Ripley keep them all alive and deliver some satisfactory explanation to Simone?

Though Ripley's Game is not as enjoyable or complex as the first two novels, it is still an interesting read. There is an increasing sense that Ripley is a stand-in for the maturing Highsmith. Her relationship to her characters is partly summed up in Ripley's relationship to Trevanny. Out of a sense of boredom or maliciousness he gets Trevanny involved in murder and mafia business, but confesses and intervenes, forming his first real friendship in the series. Highsmith, in a sense, gives this novel a happy ending. Ripley is not implicated in any of the murders. Trevanny dies quickly, defending his family, rather than the slow, agonizing death leukemia would have given him. Simone is able to maintain her moral superiority, but can now live the rest of her life in a degree of financial comfort that previously would not have been possible.

The novel was adapted by Liliana Cavani as Ripley's Game (2002) and parts of the plot were used for Wim Wenders' adaptation The American Friend (1977). It's followed by The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water. If you have read and enjoyed the first two books, it only makes sense to read this one. I read the Everyman Library Ripley trilogy, though there is also the Vintage paperback and the Complete hardcover box set.

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