Towards the beginning of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley is looking at checks he has collected fraudulently. He has been calling people and telling them they owe back taxes. However, instead of cashing the checks, he simply collects them, as if he is performing the whole ruse for his own amusement or some joy he gets from impersonating an IRS agent on the phone and listening to his victims squirm. Tom’s fraud sets the stage for a much bigger con that takes up most of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Tom really gets a chance to strut his stuff when he accepts an offer from the father of Dickie Greenleaf to go to Italy to try to convince Dickie to come back to the States. Dickie’s father mistakenly thinks that Tom knows Dickie quite better than he really does, and Tom chooses not to correct him. Dickie’s father owns a ship building company and it’s clear that the Greenleafs are quite wealthy. Tom, on the other hand, is not. He shares an apartment with a roommate he doesn’t particularly care for and socializes with a crowd he considers beneath him.
Tom gets to Italy and succeeds in finding Dickie and his sort-of girlfriend Marge. Dickie spends his time painting and shows little interest in returning to the States. Tom knows that Dickie’s father will soon tell him to quit bothering trying to convince Dickie to come home, but Tom has trouble letting go of the lifestyle of a rich American expatriate once he’s had a taste of it. In fact, he refuses to let go. While Dickie is initially quite charmed by Tom, he soon grows tired of him. When Dickie catches Tom trying on his clothes, things really head south.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a wonderful piece of suspense writing, although it might be considered low key by today’s standards. It was the first of a number of Ripley novels that Patricia Highsmith wrote and has so far been made into a movie twice with the 1960 foreign film Purple Noon and the star-studded 1999 version The Talented Mr. Ripley. With a character as thoroughly developed as Tom Ripley, it’s easy to see why.