Patricia Highsmith wrote five novels featuring the murderous anti-hero Tom Ripley, starting with The Talented Mr Ripley in 1955. Ripley Under Ground is the sequel, published in 1970. It picks up with him living in a small town just outside Paris, married to Heloise, a well-to-do French woman. It’s been six years since the events of the first novel, and Ripley has lost none of his capacity for deceit. He’s heavily involved in art forgery and thinks nothing of masquerading as the deceased artist in order to continue the pretence (and avoid the fraud being revealed). Things take a turn for the unexpected, and Ripley has to take drastic measures to conceal his role in the crime.
I really enjoyed this novel. Highsmith is a master at psychological suspense, and does a great job of involving us in the central character’s cold-blooded sense of self-preservation. It’s remarkable really how she gets us rooting for such an obvious bad-guy. But there’s something innately likeable about Tom Ripley. He’s quite the charmer. This novel feels quite a bit more relaxed and is written with more confidence than The Talented Mr Ripley, although in fairness it was written further into Highsmith’s career, when her craft was clearly honed to perfection. The plot itself is faintly ludicrous, but she manages to pull off the more unlikely aspects of it by grounding the twists, giving them an aura of inevitability. It flits between France, London and Salzburg, the latter being the location for a particularly gruesome scene involving murder and its aftermath. Overall this is a great read, with a fascinating central character and enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. Recommended.