Jessica Mann

Student of Suspense

Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith

By

Bloomsbury 534pp £25 order from our bookshop

UNPLEASANT FACTS ABOUT favourite writers can tarnish their work, but this literary biography came as a relief, even a vindication. It turns out that Patricia Highsmith was quite as detestable as I find her books – though they were undeniably extraordinary. She was a true original, who wrote powerful, memorable novels of suspense which were neither mysteries nor thrillers but meticulous studies of criminal psychopathy. They anticipated, perhaps prophetically, society’s current fascination with serial, sadistic murder, in fact and in fiction. Highsmith created a claustrophobic, irrational world in which there is no right or wrong, and where moral rules and judgements are neither good, bad nor necessary, just irrelevant. Her Before most popular books, the Ripley series, describe a man, born without any of the usual inhibitions, who flourishes through crime. He is charming and cultivated, an art forger, and a killer without conscience, laughing at the sight of his victims burning in a car or their bodies thudding into a grave. The writer Will Self said reading his first Highsmith book ‘was a physical experience of being confronted with evil’. I put my first away because I felt tangible evil coming off the page.


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