MURDER She Wrote; This Is a Novel about a Novelist Writing a Novel about a Novelist Planning a Novel about a Man Plotting to Kill His Wife. It's Written in the Style of - and Stars - Real-Life (but Now Dead) Crimenovelist Patricia Highsmith. Confused? Stick with Me, Here. It's a Creepy Cracker!

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

MURDER She Wrote; This Is a Novel about a Novelist Writing a Novel about a Novelist Planning a Novel about a Man Plotting to Kill His Wife. It's Written in the Style of - and Stars - Real-Life (but Now Dead) Crimenovelist Patricia Highsmith. Confused? Stick with Me, Here. It's a Creepy Cracker!


Byline: CRAIG BROWN FICTION

CRAIG BROWN FICTION

The Crime Writer Jill Dawson Sceptre [euro]24.99

****

When writers die, their popularity often dies with them. Does anyone read John Fowles or Anthony Burgess or Norman Mailer any more?

In the case of their contemporary Patricia Highsmith, the reverse is true. When she died in 1995, she didn't even have an American publisher. But 21 years on, she is more popular than she ever was when alive. Two biographies have appeared, both extremely good. Her dark, driven novels are all in print, and four of them - The Talented Mr Ripley, Carol, The Two Faces Of January and The Blunderer - have been turned into films.

Her reputation has grown, too.

While she was alive, she was often pigeonholed in the Crime genre, the stuffier critics and academics unable to deal with writing that was quite so compulsively, insanely readable. But not any more: these days, the ghost of Patricia Highsmith haunts our world, like a beady owl crouching on a rooftop, its blood-stained claws at the ready.

Jill Dawson has now had the audacity to push things a stage further. Her new novel, The Crime Writer, is written in the style of Patricia Highsmith and features Patricia Highsmith as its main character. Not only that, but the fictional Patricia Highsmith also commits murder. What would the real Patricia Highsmith have thought of this? Having known her a little, I can be pretty sure she would be bristling with fury.

I suspect Jill Dawson knows this too. Her Patricia Highsmith character rants against this sort of intrusion. 'Nosy little bitches, biographers, vultures all of them, trying to work their way into your secret heart, winkle out the darkness and deceit, take your life and make it their own.'

Highsmith never believed in taking things lying down. In her novels, her sympathy was for the murderers, not their victims. She called them 'my psychopath-heroes'. I once pointed out to her that Vic, her psychopath hero of Deep Water, is quite weak until he begins to murder his wife's lovers. She immediately sprang to Vic's defence.

'He's not weak,' she replied. 'He's mentally a bit odd, but at least he has a go. To impress on his wife that he's not taking any more he eliminates those boring lovers. At least he HAS A GO. At least he TRIES.'

Jill Dawson has chosen to portray Patricia Highsmith in 1964, when she was 43 years old, an American in England, living alone in a cottage in Suffolk.

Patricia limited her party, leant set During that period, she was working on A Suspension Of Mercy, a novel about an American crime writer in Suffolk who is suspected of murder.

So The Crime Writer is a novel about a novelist who is writing a novel about a novelist who is thinking of writing a novel about a man who is plotting to murder his wife. In clumsier hands, this might have emerged as impossibly convoluted and tricksy, but Jill Dawson somehow manages to keep it all very simple. Her novel is, in fact, every bit as gripping as well, as a novel by Patricia Highsmith.

The real Patricia Highsmith admitted to being confused between real life and fiction. 'He is a writer who gets life a little mixed up with his plots,' she wrote to a friend about the hero of A Suspension Of Mercy. 'Something that may happen to me.

I think I have some schizoid tendencies, which must Be Watched.'

Dawson takes this idea a step further, and has her fictional Highsmith bludgeoning eccentricities were not to keeping snails in handbag: at one dinner she deliberately over a candle and her hair on fire.

I remember once asking her if she would ever commit a murder. She told me she abhorred the idea of revenge. But then she added, almost as an afterthought: 'Mind you, the people I really detest seem to come to bad ends anyway. Car crashes, that sort of thing.'

On another occasion, she told me she had twice dreamed of murder. …

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MURDER She Wrote; This Is a Novel about a Novelist Writing a Novel about a Novelist Planning a Novel about a Man Plotting to Kill His Wife. It's Written in the Style of - and Stars - Real-Life (but Now Dead) Crimenovelist Patricia Highsmith. Confused? Stick with Me, Here. It's a Creepy Cracker!
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