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A novel about a novel about an author. While this sounds complicated, it is a good description of Jill Dawson’s tale based on the life of Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith was a superb crime writer whose novels were adapted for stage and screen. She was a difficult, eccentric woman but a brilliant crime writer and very popular in Europe and England where she chose to live, away from her home in America.
Dawson has used much of the biographical information available to create a crime story centred around Highsmith’s move to rural Sussex. It is 1964 and in attempting to focus on completing two novels, and maintain an affair with the wife of a leading banker, Highsmith finds herself the leading character in her own crime story. She gets to live what she has spent her life writing about.
I was familiar with both the writing and the life of this troubled author and found The Crime Writer captured not only events, but the disjointed, alcoholic and often depressive nature of Highsmith’s behaviour. Small details help to create a believable world out of which such captivating tales emerge: An obsession with snails, a desire to avoid publicity and the difficult memories of childhood are but a few.
By the end of this captivating tale I had to revisit my own collection of Patricia Highsmith’s writing. While a work of fiction it had enough fact to make me re-read The Price of Salt but with a new depth of understanding.
Reviewed by by Kathy Watson
The Crime Writer
by Jill Dawson
Published by Sceptre