Patricia Highsmith is a peculiar taste, nasty and unpalatable to many. Readers who like her, however, tend to like her enormously. She was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1921, the unwanted daughter of a graphic artist who attempted to abort her by drinking turpentine. Her father left home before she was born, and she moved with her mother and stepfather to New York at age eight. In due course, she graduated from Bar-nard College and took jobs that included writing the storylines to the Superman comics.
Highsmith’s big break came in 1951 with the publication of Strangers on a Train. Alfred Hitchcock, in need of a good story to bolster his credibility with the Hollywood studios, bought the film rights for $2,000. The author was disappointed, but Hitchcock assured her that this would be the making of her career. Certainly, it meant the revival of his.
Hitchcock reshaped the story to conform to Hollywood sensibilities, and the usual innocent-man-on-the-run story ends happily with the death of the criminal. Similar liberties were taken with both film versions of The Talented Mr. Ripley, the stylish French version Plein Soleil and the even more unsatisfactory Matt Damon vehicle of 1999. Again, neither France nor Hollywood, even at this late date, could let the eponymous hero get away with murder.
Such tampering misses...