Tom Ripley detested murder. Unless it was absolutely necessary. Wherever possible, he preferred someone else to do the dirty work. In this case someone with no criminal record, who would commit 'two simple murders' for a very generous fee.
The premise for Ripley's Game is the most interesting of the first three books in a series: How will a dying man look at morality when he knows his days are numbered? Ripley's Game has a second advantage over The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ripley Under Ground -- there are no plot devices where Ripley fools the same person over and over again with alternate disguises. Another advantage over Ripley Under Ground is that Ms. Highsmith has a new character who can be totally developed in his many complex facets, much as Tom Ripley was so brilliantly in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
The title is particularly clever. In one meaning, it describes one aspect of the plot. Ripley has become interested in how an innocent man might be persuaded through careful psychological nudges to perform an anonymous murder. In the other meaning, Ripley becomes the hunted, the game that killers seek out -- as in famous short story, The Most Dangerous Game. Some will even see a third meaning . . . that Ripley's ready for action.
As the book opens, Tom Ripley's criminal friend Reeves has come up with an implausible idea -- encourage the Italian mafia to run itself out of Hamburg by starting a war between rival families. To do this, Reeves needs an untraceable, innocent-looking killer who will quickly disappear. Reeves spots the possible targets, but cannot think of anyone to do the killings. Although Ripley has nothing at stake, the problem intrigues Tom. He remembers a local owner of a framing shop, Jonathan Trevanny, who has an advanced case of incurable leukemia. How might making the man afraid of dying sooner affect his willingness to kill? The story proceeds from there with many twists and turns that are more realistic than in The Talented Mr. Ripley or Ripley Under Ground.
Before the book is over, you learn a lot about how people create their own situational morality. You will find yourself surprised by the reactions of Ripley, Trevanny and Trevanny's wife. It makes for very interesting reading. I especially enjoyed seeing Ms. Highsmith go back to do more with developing new dimensions of Ripley's character.
The book's main problem with the book is that it usually moves at the wrong pace. The leisurely, untroubled sections are developed at about the same pace as the dangerous action sections are. As a result, the book feels like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is being played at the exact same average tempo throughout. The contrasts don't work as well with such an approach. In addition, the leisurely parts are too fast and the action parts are too slow.
After you finish this book, take time to honestly think about what you would do if you had been Trevanny. It makes for a series of fascinating speculations to consider.
The character of Tom Ripley is a marvellously complex one - we see Ripley at once toy with Trevanny as a puppet, and then step into help him in an act of apparent selflessness. We also get to know the character of Reeves Minot, briefly featured in Riply Under Ground, in more depth. But the real strength of this novel is the character of Jonathan Trevanny who mirrors the reader's initial disgust with Ripley, then their reluctant fascination, and finally their seduction into his psychopathic world.
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