In this third volume of 'the Ripleiad," Tom Ripley, still edgy after the risks taken in the Derwatt affair (which is frequently referred to, and refreshed my memory nicely of Ripley Under Ground), is settling back into life at his French place-in-the-country, Belle Ombre, when he is contacted by an old criminal acquaintance who wants two Mafia figures from rival families killed, so the Mob will stay out of his native Hamburg. Ripley, who, the book reminds us, "detested murder unless it were absolutely necessary," is not of course interested in carrying out the jobs himself, but becomes instrumental in finding someone who will. And so the first half of the book becomes a study in persuading an upright citizen to carry out the most unspeakable crimes (clue: it helps if they're terminally ill), and the second half of the book shows what happens when the Mafia want revenge. It's gripping, thrilling, beautifully weighted and paced, and with enough meaty analysis of the personalities and relationships of all those involved to keep it well above potboiler status. A delectable triumph, with a seriously implausible body count. It's also been adapted twice for film, just like The Talented Mr Ripley (though why nobody wants to adapt the intervening volume of Ripley Under Ground is a mystery): a couple of years ago under its own title with John Malkovich as Tom Ripley; and in 1977 by Wim Wenders, as The American Friend. Either guarantees confusion from anyone viewing it as a sequel to Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley, so save yourself the effort and read the books instead.