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…