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The Glass Cell – Move Over Ripley (Book Review)

If you read suspense and have not read Patricia Highsmith, first of all, shame on you and second, you have some weird and wonderful (and terrifying) books ahead. No one wrote like Highsmith. Her novels deliver in the classic thriller/mystery/suspense department for those simply looking for an edgy ride but they’re also literate and truly unique. Her characters are odd, not in the quirky sense, but disturbed and wretched. And real.

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Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wasn’t afraid to take time to get a story rolling, as many authors are (especially nowadays) and although that may fail her from time to time, the reader has time to soak in the world she creates with those deviant but everyday characters. She’s written a dog or two (IMHO) but every great author has. It’s part of reaching for the kind of stories that, more often than not, leave a mark.

About a third of the way through The Glass Cell, I thought I was reading one of Highsmith’s dogs. I’ve already read all her well-known work (Strangers on a Train is a must-read. If you don’t believe me, believe Hitchcock who made Highsmith’s first novel into an excellent movie) and thought I was scraping the bottom of the Highsmith barrel.

There are real flaws with the first third of Glass Cell, the story of a man who goes to prison for six years on a fraudulent charge. Key events happen off camera, important characters are not physically described, and Highsmith’s slow-burn prose feels like it’s meandering.

But then Philip Carter, our ill-fated anti-hero, gets out of prison, physically and mentally damaged, craving morphine, and learns that his beautiful wife has most likely been having a six-year-long affair with his lawyer. Then the people who set Carter up come back into the picture. It seems inevitable that Carter does some of the things he does.

And the reader ends up rooting for a milquetoast turned drug-addled psychopath. I was never a huge fan of Ripley, one of Highsmith’s more fantastic characters, but Carter had my complete sympathy no matter what he did to those who treated him so poorly. Highsmith is famous for her Ripley books (and the first one should be on everyone’s to-read list) but whereas Ripley is prickly and frightening, Carter is your unstable friend who just can’t catch a break.

Stay inside The Glass Cell and you won’t be disappointed.

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