The first in a five-book series by Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley presents sociopathic murderer Tom Ripley and the first of his criminal exploits centering around Italy and the carefree, rich scion Dickie Greenleaf. The novel became iconic in American literature after its publication in 1955, spawning film, television, theatre, and even radio adaptions.
The Talented Mr. Ripley introduces Tom Ripley, an ambitious yet bored young man struggling to make ends meet in New York City. Haunted by an abusive past and the taunts of his caretaker, Tom finds that his life takes a much-needed turn after he is approached by wealthy Herbert Greenleaf, who implores him to take a trip to Mongibello, Italy to persuade his son, Dickie to come back from his vacationing. After Tom travels to Italy and meets Dickie, he soon develops an obsession with his carefree lifestyle, desiring to imitate and emulate every aspect of his wealthy life, and becoming fixated on Dickie's relationship with Marge, a woman he is friendly with. This complex infatuation leads to Tom's eventual decision to murder Dickie and assume his identity.
However, his exploits in Italy do not end there. The murder triggers an intricate series of events, causing misgivings to fall upon Tom, who must think quickly on his feet to avoid the suspicions of the Italian police, Marge, and Dickie's friends. The book enters a thrilling, heart-pounding phase as Tom evades every situation, finally escaping to Greece, along with all of Dickie's wealth.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a complex work of literature that explores psychological themes of sociopathy, identity politics, and human nature. The book was well-received by critics, who generally commended its fast-paced style and exceptional characterization, especially of the criminal protagonist Tom Ripley. Prominent English novelist Graham Greene praised the book by saying: "Highsmith has created a world of her own—a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger."
Patricia Highsmith wrote four more Ripley novels documenting Tom's later exploits: Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water, all generally positively reviewed.
The novel has been adapted multiple times for the big screen, starting with René Clément's loose adaption Purple Noon, from 1960. The most recent film adaption, 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, starred Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and was both a commercial and critical success.