Secrets and Lies

For September, I’ve decided to look at fiction that is based on secrets and lies.  This might mean thrillers, mysteries, crime fiction, cliff-hangers or page-turners: anything well-written that keeps you reading, on and on, into the night.  So books with strong plot-lines -‘what happens next?’ – but also believable, carefully-crafted characters and intriguing themes.

These novels that we can’t put down deal with the mysteries of  human behavior and psychology.  Think of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), the story of a man who murders his closest friend. There’s the intrigue of the likelihood of Ripley’s being caught (how? by whom?); the fascination of  the protagonist (what kind of a man kills someone and then takes on the dead man’s identity?) and the themes of friendship, doubles and inherent evil. Throw in the glorious setting of Rome and Highsmith’s command of language, and you have an unforgettable – and unputdownable – book.

Ripley’s deepest secret is his true nature, his psychopathic indifference to other people’s feelings. He lies to Dickie Greenleaf in order to ingratiate himself with the wealthy young man, then murders his ‘friend’ to acquire money and prestige. The scene, in an expensive café in Paris, where Ripley pretends even to himself that he now really is ‘Richard Greenleaf’ is one of the most chilling in the novel.

So, secrets and lies: books that are easy and enjoyable to read, wonderful stories with dark mysteries at the heart…

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Secrets and Lies

  1. Brenna

    I remember stumbling across Mr Ripley in my local public library, many years ago (it was much more interesting than the stuff we were reading at school). The title caught my attention so I decided to read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree that it is the well-crafted charaters and intriguing plot that makes it such a good book.

    • Sherry

      I read the Ripley books after seeing the film “Ripleys Game”, the one with Dennis Hopper. He was perfect for the role & the film had me on the edge of my seat! The books are much more interesting than the usual thriller genre, as you would have to say Ripley is a psychopath…but somehow we readily identify with the character! usually I see the film after reading the book, but in this case it was the opposite. I think Patricia Highsmith also wrote “Strangers on a Train” [?? ]made into a great film by Alfred Hitchcock..

  2. Sue

    ‘Strangers on a Train’ is a gripping read and my first introduction to Patricia Highsmith. It is certainly an insight into human behaviour.

    • I have “seen the film” but not yet “read the book” of Strangers on a Train, and I think that I read somewhere that the 2 endings are very different. Hitchcock gave us a relatively happy ending – the baddies punished, order restored- but Highsmith was apparently much bleaker, and more realistic.

  3. John

    One of the first murder mysteries I can remember reading (that has stayed in my mind) is Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Niggers. To read how each of the ten people on the island are killed one by one was intriguing and I loved the McGuffin in the end. I’m not sure if she was the first person to use such a plot, and since then it’s been used sooooo many times you almost expect such things these days.

    • Yes, Ten Little Niggers is one of Christie’s great successes – up there with Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I love the “she cheated” reactions to these (then) unconventional endings – hello! It’s fiction! the author doesn’t have to write to a set of “fair” procedures and expectations…

      • Sue

        I remember reading Ten Little Niggers when I was at high school and being absolutely wrapt in the story. And I still read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd now and again. They are both very clever, gripping stories, even after all these years. Of course, crime writing is much more sophisticated these days, but I do wonder if modern crime will last the distance like some of these old Agatha Christie stories have.

  4. A good question – will some of the modern and more realistic crime fiction last the distance? Agatha Christie’s strength was the ingenuity of her plots, and it’s this ‘what happens next? How will this end? Whodunnit?’ that keeps people reading her work. Much to my delight, my 14-year-old god-daughter has just discovered Christie’s novels, and she is enthralled by them.