Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Five of the most enduring imposters in crime fiction & espionage

Paul Vidich’s fourth novel, The Mercenary, is now out from Pegasus Books. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed the next year by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

[Q&A with Paul Vidich]

At CrimeReads, Vidich tagged five "classic works whose memorable imposters still entertain and appall us," including:
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith (1955)

Tom Ripley is the quintessential sympathetic scoundrel. To avoid police detectives in New York, Ripley eagerly accepts a wealthy businessman’s invitation to visit Italy to check in on his son, Dickie Greenleaf. The two young men are opposites and from the start don’t get along. Ripley is clever and intelligent, yet lacks a college degree, and he feels superior to most of the people around him. Dickie is educated, wealthy, and self-absorbed, having gone to Italy to paint, but he has negligible talent. During an outing on San Remo bay, Ripley impulsively strikes Dickie with an oar, killing him. The novel’s course suddenly shifts.

Ripley vaguely regrets the murder, suffers bouts of paranoia and some bad dreams, but he is able to convince himself that it was not his fault. He re-imagines the incident, draws alternate conclusions, and makes up different versions of what happened. And slowly, he begins to inhabit Dickie’s life, signing Dickie’s name on checks, selling Dickie’s boat, and soon Ripley begins to enjoy being Dickie. He takes on Dickie’s mannerisms, his tastes, and soon he is no longer impersonating Dickie—he is Dickie. He leaves behind his own shabby existence and steps into the life of the man he killed.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Talented Mr Ripley is on Lisa Levy's list of eight of the most toxic friendships in crime fiction, Elizabeth Macneal's list of five sympathetic fictional psychopaths, Laurence Scott's list of seven top books about doppelgangers, J.S. Monroe's list of seven suspenseful literary thrillers, Simon Lelic's top ten list of false identities in fiction, Jeff Somers's list of fifty novels that changed novels, Olivia Sudjic's list of eight favorite books about love and obsession, Roz Chast's six favorite books list, Nicholas Searle's top five list of favorite deceivers in fiction, Chris Ewan's list of the ten top chases in literature, Meave Gallagher's top twenty list of gripping page-turners every twentysomething woman should read, Sophia Bennett's top ten list of books set in the Mediterranean, Emma Straub's top ten list of holidays in fiction, E. Lockhart's list of favorite suspense novels, Sally O'Reilly's top ten list of novels inspired by Shakespeare, Walter Kirn's top six list of books on deception, Stephen May's top ten list of impostors in fiction, Simon Mason's top ten list of chilling fictional crimes, Melissa Albert's list of eight books to change a villain, Koren Zailckas's list of eleven of literature's more evil characters, Alex Berenson's five best list of books about Americans abroad John Mullan's list of ten of the best examples of rowing in literature, Tana French's top ten maverick mysteries list, the Guardian's list of the 50 best summer reads ever, the Telegraph's ultimate reading list, and Francesca Simon's top ten list of antiheroes.

--Marshal Zeringue