As with her better known Ripley novels, in Deep Water (a welcome reissue from Bloomsbury in a handsome edition), Patricia Highsmith gives us a portrayal of a killer who is not entirely unsympathetic: or at least (as with Tom Ripley), it seems to the reader that the people who suffer at his hand are a lot worse than he is... Here, she sets Victor Van Allen, a small publisher with an independent income, against his vampish wife Melinda, or, as the blurb puts it:
"Melinda Van Allen is beautiful, rebellious, tempestuous and sexy. Unfortunately for wealthy socialite Vic Van Allen, she is his wife."
When one of Melinda's lovers is murdered, Van Allen seizes the opportunity to frighten off another by telling him that he, Van Allen, was the murderer. No-one believes him, but word gets around, and soon enough, Van Allen finds himself the true possessor of the title. The transition from wronged husband to killer seems to us logical, fluent and plausible, and our sympathy is, if not unequivocally with Van Allen, certainly never with the victims (though Highsmith dextrously forces this by never delving into the reactions of those left behind: the other victims of any murder). She is more interested in exploring what makes a man do these things, and in interesting us in it too, by making the books so devourably readable. "She writes about men like a spider writing about flies," said one critic, and it's a sticky, addictive web once you're in.