Patricia Highsmith's cynical view of the world emerges in her psychopath character Tom Ripley, who is quintessentially corrupt. This plot springs from Ripley's plot to forge paintings of an artist who committed suicide several years ago, so that he and his pals at a London gallery can not only sell the new paintings but make a small business branding artifacts with the artist's name.
Until an American collector suspects the forgery because Bernard, the painter faking the paintings, used a purple color that Derwatt, the dead painter, abandoned years earlier. The collector was convinced no artist went back to a color he had abandoned.
It is not a spoiler for those who know Ripley to intimate that this collector met a bad end, in a particularly French way. The suspense of these books is to figure out when or if Ripley will do the deed and the additional frisson is to empathize with his ambivalence about it.
The rest of the book then is devoted to the police investigation of the collector's disappearance and whether Bernard, who is cracking, will become Ripley's next victim. Ripley keeps one step ahead of everyone as the widow of the victim, Bernard and Scotland Yard close the ring around him. But suspicion is no proof and without a body or any forensic link between Ripley and the victim (victims?), it remains only a suspicion, at least for a while.
I finished the book as we arrived in France and the largely French setting, with side trips to London and Salzburg, was apt. The stories are apparently set in the 1950s, when things like international phone calls were more primitive than in 1970, when the book was written, let alone today.
The fascination with Ripley is macabre, but Highsmith's writing is so limpid and her insight into Ripley is so creepy that it's a quick read.