James Lasdun’s memoir, Give Me Everything You Have, told of how he was stalked by a female ex-student whose lurid claims endangered his reputation. By his own account, a minor and benign consequence of this ordeal was the taste it gave him for Patricia Highsmith, whose ‘anxiety-saturated’ psychological thrillers eased his dread. To judge from Lasdun’s new novel, Highsmith has been an inspiration as well as a consolation. A stealthily nasty tale of social envy and sexual deceit, sifted through the worldview of a damaged outsider akin to a not-so-talented Tom Ripley, The Fall Guy looks very much like Lasdun’s stab at a 21st-century remix of his favoured comfort reading, with the comfort stripped out.
The early pages crackle with a gut-level sense of menace that it’s tricky to pinpoint. When Charlie and Chloe leave Brooklyn to spend the summer at their second home upstate, Charlie’s London-born cousin Matthew