As some of you may know, I’ve been reading more books by and about Patricia Highsmith over the past year, so when The Crime Writer crossed my path, I had to give it a try.
In the book, Jill Dawson uses Patricia Highsmith as the lead character. Dawson thoroughly researched Highsmith’s life and work, which – from what I gather – makes for a believable character in the book, although of course we will never know as Highsmith herself was a bit of a recluse (by her own choice) and a bit of a mystery. All this adds to the credibility of Dawson’s imagined character of Pat.
As for the story, it describes Pat withdrawing to the English countryside, trying to work away from the distractions of her fans and her family.
During her stay, she seemed to be pursued by a stalker and by a journalist, whose motives are not clear. Is she being investigated? Is her clandestine relationship with a married woman being put at risk of discovery? Are all of these things connected?
In time, Pat is entangled in a web of intrigue and concealment.
It’s an engaging enough plot, and my only criticisms are these:
1. Part of the plot strongly reminded me of Sarah Waters The Paying Guests, which I actually enjoyed but it did take away some of the plot development.
2. Although this is a fictional account, some of the plot hinges on actual facts in Highsmith’s own life, and as such I could not help but notice a couple of anachronisms. The most, to me, irritating of which is in connection with Highsmith’s book The Price of Salt (later re-published as Carol). Highsmith published the book under a pseudonym, and it was not widely known (according to Andrew Wilson’s biography Beautiful Shadow) until much later than when The Crime Writer is set. Accoding to Wilson’s biography, which is largely based on Highsmith’s own diaries and records, Highsmith was not aware that anyone (other than her immediate family and her publisher) knew she had written The Price of Salt until the 70s after a neighbour of her mother’s tried to discuss the book with her. Officially, Highsmith only acknowledged the book at the time of its re-publication in 1990. So, the developments in Dawson’s story which involved The Price of Salt threw me a little.
All in all, however, The Crime Writer was an enjoyable way to re-imagine one of the most puzzling and contradictory writers I like to ponder about.