Ripley Under Ground

Patricia Highsmith

The business is doing quite well and has actually grown to include a painting school among other things.

Then everything begins to fall apart. It all starts when American art enthusiast Thomas Murchison visits London for a Derwatt show at the Buckmaster. Murchison is particularly drawn to Derwatt’s work and is especially knowledgeable about it. He begins to ask some questions about the authenticity of the work when he notices subtle but real differences between the genuine Derwatts he’s seen and one of the Derwatts that are really Tufts’ work. When Ripley hears about this, he decides that the best plan is to disguise himself as Derwatt, go to London and identify the painting in question as his. Ripley’s partners agree and the plan is carried out. But even though Ripley’s Derwatt disguise is successful it’s not enough to convince Murshison absolutely, and Murchison decides he’ll go to the authorities about this case of possible fraud.

Ripley comes up with what he thinks will be a successful way to get rid of Murchison. In his own identity, he approaches Murchison as a fellow Derwatt enthusiast and invites the American to his home in France to see his Derwatts. Murchison agrees to go and during his stay, Ripley tries to persuade him not to take his concerns to the authorities. His campaign is not successful though and Ripley now knows he’ll have to take more extreme measures. He deals with “the Murchison problem” only to face an even bigger one.

Bernard Tufts has begun to crack mentally. He feels he cannot go on any longer as Derwatt since he’s failed to capture the real Derwatt’s spirit. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that his girlfriend Cynthia has ended their relationship. When Tufts finds out what Ripley’s done to protect the group from Murchison’s inquisitiveness, he finds himself drawn more or less against his will to help Ripley cover up what he’s done. This drives Tufts even more over the edge as he begins to blame Ripley for all his problems. Then, the police begin to make enquiries about Thomas Murchison. Now Ripley has to deal with that as well as the increasingly unhinged Bernard Tufts.

This is a classic novel of psychological suspense, so the focus isn’t really on what you might call a mystery. We know from the beginning who does what, so to speak. The real interest in this novel comes from the buildup of psychological tension. 

One of the other interesting elements of this novel is the character of Tom Ripley himself. Highsmith described him as amoral and it’s easy to see why, considering his actions in this novel. On one level, he is utterly self-protective and he does whatever he needs to do to keep his world safe, so to speak. For example, his concern for Tufts’ mental state isn’t compassion because Tufts is a friend who’s at the breaking point. Instead, it’s concern about what will happen to his, Ripley’s, comfortable world if Tufts cracks completely. That said though, Ripley isn’t an all-too-stereotypical psychotic serial killer who delights in murder and those who dislike gore need not worry. There really isn’t any gore in this novel. He doesn’t look forward eagerly to murder and he doesn’t take pride in killing. And he feels the anxiety that you’d expect as he faces off against the police while trying to keep as much as possible from his wife and housekeeper. He does what he feels he has to do in a very pragmatic way; he’d rather not kill, but he does when he needs to. He’d rather not keep secrets from his wife but he does when he needs to. So in that sense, he is an amoral person without what many of us would call a conscience. He’s a complex character and that adds to his interest.

Ripley Under Ground features suspense that comes not from a fast pace or a lot of action, but from character interactions and psychological confrontations. It also features a main character who’s complicated and interesting – the kind of character one can find both amoral and conscienceless and fascinating at the same time.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

It's been six years since Ripley murdered Dickie Greenleaf and inherited his money. Now, in Ripley Under Ground (1970), he lives in a beautiful French villa, surrounded by a world-class art collection and married to a pharmaceutical heiress. All seems serene in Ripley's world until a phone call from London shatters his peace. An art forgery scheme he set up a few years ago is threatening to unravel: a nosy American is asking questions and Ripley must go to London to put a stop to it. In this second Ripley novel, Patricia Highsmith offers a mesmerizing and disturbing tale in which Ripley will stop at nothing to preserve his tangle of lies.

About Patricia Highsmith:

Patricia Highsmith was an American novelist who is known mainly for her psychological crime thrillers which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations over the years. She attended public schools in New York City and later graduated from Barnard College in 1942. Her first suspense novel 'Strangers on a Train' published in 1950 was an immediate success with public and critics alike. The novel has been adapted for the screen three times, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. In 1955 her anti-hero Tom Ripley appeared in the splendid 'The Talented Mr Ripley', a book that was awarded the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere as the best foreign mystery novel translated into French in 1957. This book, too, has been the subject of a number of film versions. Ripley appeared again in 'Ripley Under Ground' in 1970, in 'Ripley's Game' in 1974, 'The boy who Followed Ripley' in 1980 and in 'Ripley Under Water' in 1991.

Along with her acclaimed series about Ripley, she wrote 22 novels and eight short story collections plus many other short stories, often macabre, satirical or tinged with black humour. She also wrote one novel, non-mystery, under the name Claire Morgan, plus a work of non-fiction 'Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction' and a co-written book of children's verse, 'Miranda the Panda Is on the Veranda'.

She latterly lived in England and France and was more popular in England than in her native United States.

She died of leukemia in Locarno, Switzerland on 4 February 1995.

As Ripley Under Ground begins, Tom Ripley, whom Highsmith readers will know from previous Ripley novels, has settled in the French village of Villeperce-sur-Seine with his wife Heloise Plisson. He’s doing reasonably well financially, chiefly for two reasons. First, Heloise comes from a very wealthy family. Second, Ripley and his friends Jeff Constant, Ed Banbury and Bernard Tufts manage a successful “business enterprise” of Ripley’s creation. They’ve convinced a Bond Street gallery called the Buckmaster Gallery to handle the work of painter Philip Derwatt, a relative unknown who died a few years earlier. Tufts, who is a painter himself, has started creating new “Derwatt” works. Constant, a photographer, publicises the work and Banbury, a journalist, writes up articles to keep Derwatt’s name in the public eye.