Poet of Apprehension: The 9 Best Patricia Highsmith Books

    Dive into one of the most talented suspense writers of all time.

    Nobody wrote psychological thrillers like Patricia Highsmith. The writer, who Graham Greene once called the “poet of apprehension”, wrote thrillers with real literary weight, and her superb plots translated well to the screen with the aid of filmmakers and actors as revered as Alfred Hitchcock, Dennis Hopper, and Matt Damon. Add to that Highsmith’s pioneering status as an openly gay writer of popular fiction, and you have a legacy that ranks among the all-time greats.

    In importance and talent, Highsmith was a literary writer–but in output, as well as popularity, she kept pace with her mass-market peers. Highsmith cranked out more than 20 novels, which makes narrowing down her work tough. Fortunately, we’re up to the task. Here are the nine best Patricia Highsmith books.

    Buy Strangers on a Train at Amazon

    Strangers on a Train

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Highsmith’s literary debut remains one of her most famous works, and for good reason. This psychological thriller drops a formerly law-abiding architect into a terrifying relationship with a remorseless killer. After a chance meeting on a train, the killer murders the architect’s unfaithful wife with the understanding that the two men have agreed to “exchange murders”. The architect must then decide what to do: Report the murder at the risk of being thought complicit, or hold up his end of the bargain.

    Related: 10 Suspense Books That Will Leave You Reeling 

    Strangers on a Train

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy Carol at Amazon

    Carol

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Highsmith was a rising literary star following the success of Stranger on a Train. But her next manuscript frightened her publisher: The Price of Salt was a lesbian romance, sure to be a magnet for controversy in the 1950s. The publisher of Strangers on a Train refused to even publish The Price of Salt. But Coward-McCann would–if Highsmith used a penname to avoid alienating her suspense fans. Both Highsmith and her publisher feared that the new book would disrupt Highsmith’s brand as a thriller writer and risk critical pigeonholing as, in Highsmith’s words, a “lesbian-book writer”. The novel was finally published under Highsmith’s real name in 1990, five years before her death, at which point it was also retitled Carol. While outside of Highsmith’s usual genre, it is undoubtedly one of her most important works and inspired one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of 2015

    Carol

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy The Talented Mr. Ripley at Amazon

    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Arguably Highsmith’s most iconic work, this novel introduces the titular Mr. Tom Ripley, who was destined to become Highsmith’s most famous character. Ripley is introduced as a small-time con man, but his “talents” eventually take him beyond that status. Ripley is smart, suave, and more than a bit amoral. The memorable antihero would go on to star in four more Highsmith novels, completing the so-called “Ripliad.” Ripley has also been the star of a number of stage and screen adaptations, including one starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

    The Talented Mr. Ripley

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy Deep Water at Amazon

    Deep Water

    By Patricia Highsmith

    In pop thrillers, bad psychopaths are a dime a dozen – there seem to be a lot more writers who want to write about psychopaths than there are writers with an understanding of psychopathy and a talent for representing it on the page. Highsmith’s writing is a welcome exception: Nobody wrote psychopaths better. In Deep Water, Highsmith paints a portrait of a murderous psychopath, dwelling on the details and unflinchingly examining the truths of a very real disorder.

    Related: 15 Killer Mysteries & Thrillers You Need to Read This Summer 

    Deep Water

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy The Tremor of Forgery at Amazon

    The Tremor of Forgery

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Highsmith counted some of the world’s foremost writers among her fans, including English novelist Graham Greene. And Greene, among other luminaries, thought that The Tremor of Forgery was the best novel Highsmith ever wrote. The book follows a writer from Greenwich Village on a trip to North Africa, where he is dramatically changed.

    The Tremor of Forgery

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy This Sweet Sickness at Amazon

    This Sweet Sickness

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Another Highsmith classic that deals with psychopathy, This Sweet Sickness introduces the reader to the elaborate fantasies of its psychotic main character. Highsmith’s sick character, David Kelsey, invents an entire fantasy life after an imagined betrayal–but his violent reactions take place in the real world. Once again, Highsmith demonstrates her commitment to accuracy in representing psychopaths, as well as her talent for characterizing them in compelling ways.

    Related: 9 Must-Read P.D. James Books for Any Mystery Fan 

    This Sweet Sickness

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy A Suspension of Mercy at Amazon

    A Suspension of Mercy

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Originally published in the United States under the title The Story-Teller, 1965’s A Suspension of Mercy features an American crime writer who, looking for a fresh bout of inspiration, imagines that he has murdered his wife after their (actual) separation and play-acts his way through disposing of the body that doesn’t actually exist. It’s a big mistake: His freshly estranged wife disappears, and suspicion quickly falls on the protagonist and his make-believe cover-up. The premise might have been silly in the hands of a less talented writer, but Highsmith’s novel is clever and claustrophobic.

    A Suspension of Mercy

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy Ripley Under Ground at Amazon

    Ripley Under Ground

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Talented Tom Ripley is back in this book, the second of Highsmith’s Ripliad. Six years after the events of the first book, Ripley is living in France with an heiress wife. He’s still up to no good, of course, conning innocents and even murdering them. This somewhat older Ripley is still smart and suave and is now armed with greater resources and sophistication.

    Ripley Under Ground

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Buy Edith's Diary at Amazon

    Edith's Diary

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Edith’s Diary is Highsmith at her creepy best. Though not a conventional crime or suspense story, this novel creates an enduring sense of unease as it juxtaposes a woman’s disappointing life with her unhinged diary, which recounts the fantasy life that she wants so badly to be living. Highsmith’s talent for giving mentally unstable characters real literary weight is on full display in this work.

    Edith's Diary

    By Patricia Highsmith

    Featured photo: Alchetron 

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