The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, was written in 1955 and is considered to be a classic mystery novel; not a who-done-it, rather, a psychological trip through a murderer’s consciousness.
Many readers have commented that the book’s protagonist, Thomas Ripley, is a sociopath, but that Highsmith writes in a manner that elicits sympathy so that the reader wants Ripley to get away with his crimes. I cannot fathom that sentiment. I did want Tom to succeed to a certain extent, but only for the sake of the story and its continuance; ultimately, I wanted him to be caught because there was nothing likeable about him; he was cold, completely self-absorbed, and matter-of-fact about the violent crimes he committed (he had an occasional twinge of guilt, but was able to displace it far too easily).
When Ripley claims to love a character, he is really in love with the character’s position in life, the comfort that comes with it, and the poise with which the person accepts their station in life. When Ripley meets Dickie (Richard Greenleaf), he is able to live vicariously through the other man; Ripley wants a life like Dickie’s so badly that he would consider anything to obtain it. There are hints of homosexuality in Tom’s character, but I think that Marge Sherwood — Dickie’s girlfriend — may be correct in stating that Tom has no sexuality: his lust is for an exciting life at the expense of others (this is quite clear from the beginning of the novel when Tom has devised a flim-flam tax scheme that tricks people into writing checks and sending them to him: he never cashes the checks; it is the thrill of deception and the excitement of possible capture that drives him).
I enjoyed the first half of the novel; but, for me, the last half fell flat: there were too many plot-points that strained belief and there was not enough morality, or depth, to plug the holes. The novel had an interesting concept, but, sadly, it didn’t work for me.
There is also a movie version, which modified many of the details found in the novel. I don’t recall all the particulars, but I think that Tom’s character may have been less sociopathic (and more obviously gay) and I think that Marge and Freddie Miles (Dickie’s friend) have larger parts in the movie. I also think that the police and other characters were not as easily deceived by Tom in the movie (which, in the novel, stretched credibility).