The Talented Mr. Ripley
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I first encountered Highsmith's unusual hero many years back, and was immediately charmed by him. (One of the more disturbing aspects of the Ripley books - there are five in all, though I think the last one's a bit below par - is that the reader tends to sympathize with him and hope for his success even when he's just killed somebody.) In this book he's a rather nervous young man in dire need of cash - and of a new identity, since he doesn't think much of the one he has. When an opportunity arises to visit an old acquaintance in a sunny fishing village, Tom takes it, and begins to insinuate himself into his new friend's life. But when the friend decides Tom's getting entirely too familiar and tells him to back off, Tom's driven to a desperate move - and from there he has to keep taking larger risks to avoid discovery. It's suspenseful and poignant and often funny, with occasional bursts of terrifying (and understated) violence, and I'd call it a must-read for any fan of suspense literature.
The book has been filmed a couple of times, in 1966 as Purple Noon, starring (the beautiful!) Alain Delon, and most recently the 1999 version starring (the not-very-appealling-to-me-but-your-mileage-may-vary) Matt Damon. Each film had some good aspects - I loved Jack Davenport's performance in a secondary role in the 1999 film - but neither film concluded in the same way as the book. Both worth seeing, but do read the book first!
[For more about the Ripley books, check out the TV Tropes page, but do watch out for spoilers!]
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