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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Blunderer
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
After reading 'Strangers on a Train', which I thought was utterly superb, I was generally disappointed in Highsmith's later works. While at worst enjoyable, these later works lacked the psychological tension of her first book (which was turned into a Hitchcock film). Fortunately, I discovered the (now) little-known 'The Blunderer', Highsmith's second mystery novel (after 'Strangers on a Train' and before 'The Talented Mr Ripley'). It is equal to the best she has ever done.
Like 'Strangers on a Train', 'The Blunderer' is the study of two accused criminals and how they cope with each other while being hounded by an aggressive police detective. As guilt and suspicion build with each page the reader is really dropped into the deep end of endless anxiety and self-doubt. I found myself completely absorbed, especially during the last half of the novel. It is such a joy to read a novel that is crisp, economical and written in a seemingly effortless style.
Bottom line: 'The Blunderer' is a must read. Hopefully it will be reprinted so that Highsmith junkies (like me) can readily find it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
For Highsmith fans, The Blunderer has just been re-released in a new series put out by Norton press. (Norton is also planning to re-release other Highsmith books for which they have publishing rights.)
My review of the book isn't as positive as those by others who have written before me, but I think this is because I read, just before The Blunderer, The Cry of The Owl, which is similar in plotline but far better written and without the unnecessarily violent ending found in The Blunderer. (Highsmith wrote The Blunderer in 1954 and The Cry of The Owl in 1962; my guess is that in the intervening years Highsmith had time to improve on the plotline.)
Still, The Blunderer is a good read. Highsmith did a great job of showing how two people's lives can suddenly intwine in ways neither individual would ever conceive of if not in the middle of Highsmith's weird, twisted, amoral universe. Highsmith also continues her close-up examination of our inner obsessions that, on occasion, can creep to the surface and wind up completely derailing life as we knew it before.
I recommend The Blunderer for readers who are well familiar with Highsmith's works beyond the well-known Mr. Ripley series. Gain appreciation of Highsmith's "high notes" before taking a look at her earlier works which foreshadow the mystery writer genius of future years.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a superbly crafted novel. It gets under your skin, and like a test for allergies, it makes you aware of sensitivities you never knew you had. I couldn't put it down, I often laughed out loud, and was haunted. She makes an improbable situation most probable. In another writer's hand this could've been dreadful. How did she do it? I am not sure. But that is the magic of Highsmith, and she spins her spell wonderfully in this masterpiece. It has an existential power, a nightmarish texture, and the bite of the best dark comedy.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Currently out of print, this early thriller by Patricia Highsmith bears many of her trademarks: page-turning suspense, unbelievably cruel and sordid characters, the "doppelganger" motif (as in "Strangers on a Train"), the famous "transference of guilt" that fascinated Hitchcock, and an overpowering sense of hopelessness (at times I felt like I was reading an American version of Camus's "The Stranger"). Added here is a theme of lying that twists and turns its way through the plot until "the tangled web" is so thick that there is simply no way out.
The story concerns two unhappy marriages -- one that ends in murder, and another that seems headed in the same direction. Like so many other Highsmith books, it features a pair of not-too-admirable protagonists, one who is truly guilty and another who only seems to be -- or is he really? How much do intention and motivation count toward making a man guilty of murder? This is one of Highsmith's favorite themes, and it's played out here in its most radical and shattering incarnation.
In the end, I think you'll find the book is about a man who is not so much a blunderer as he is virtually driven to possible madness and genuine guilt by the constant doubt and suspicion of everyone he knows -- including himself.
In typical Highsmith fashion, this is a book nearly impossible to put down, yet dizzying in its psychological implications. I've said before that reading Highsmith is like falling down a well -- it's dark and terrifying, and there's no way to stop. That's about what this book feels like.
Well worth finding, esp. for the die-hard Highsmith fan (like me).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Highsmith's 3rd published novel starts on the fast-track then gradually slows to a crawl before being revived by an O'Henry ending, the slowing a result, perhaps, of too much Stackhouse (the blunderer). The detective Corly never rises much above caricature but Kimmel, the narcissitic porno-collecting murderer, is a real treat (as is Clara, Stackhouse's nagging and unbearable wife). One of Highsmith's best.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Writers hold up mirrors to uncharted mind landscapes. Patricia knows more about us than we might think we do. Her spelling skills are impeccable: the lady never loses her thread through man's intimate alphabet. Highsmith works her way from the bright spot of A to Z's darker shades. Two characters share the Blunderer's stage. As a reader it is expected we identify with innocence. And indeed who will doubt we're not the good guy, clumsy at times, but always meaning well. Yet the uncomfortable truth that extremes are drawn together is brought to us in a very skillful process. Could it be that clumsiness is a revealing sign of premeditation ? In us as on the page, character loses its pristine clarity. Conscience sets and the moonlit Blunderer's is aglow with a different light. Most of us will come out of the experience with some uneasy insights and may ponder that we are actually 'the other'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I'm new to Highsmith's books but I have to say I was very disappointed in this one. I loved "Deep Water" and eagerly delved into this one. Though the writing is extraordinary, the story left me wanting. The actions of the protagonist made me want to shout at him about his stupidity. Again, there is the good writing, but I couldn't care about the lead character.

The story is about a man who kills his wife and a man who wants to kill his wife. One is innocent, one is guilty but the reality of the guilt or innocence seems to have nothing to do with the outcome of the story. It has to do with poor choices.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Yes, that's why it's titled "The Blunderer." At every turn of the story he does something inexplicably stupid, putting himself deeper and deeper into a hole. He becomes increasingly pathetic and ineffectual and the story gets very repetitive. Highsmith's Ripley character is the opposite; as events close in on him he becomes increasingly clever and interesting. "The Blunderer" is a misfire on all cylinders.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I haven't even finished this book yet and I love the way this author pulls me in. This is a story of a man who is so in love with his wife but she treats him like a dog. Even tho she can't stand him, she won't let him leave her....what's a fellow to do, why think of murder of course. Patricia Highsmith is my new best author friend.
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on November 21, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This story has a lot in common with Dostoevsky' s "Crime and Punishment" in that the detective has free rein to get inside the heads of the two suspects to force out admissions of guilt in the absence of real proof. One of the characters, Kimmel, is repugnant but intelligent. The other, Walter, is sympathetically portrayed, yet he is the blunderer who makes the ultimate blunder at the end of the story.
Another reading reveals this to be a retelling of the Whittaker Chambers-Alger Hiss saga that was occupying much of the media coverage when this novel was written. The physical descriptions match the two real-life antagonists, and the likable nature of Hiss is reflected in the portrayal of Walter. The huge amount of circumstantially incriminating but questionable evidence eventually traps Walter, much like Hiss' eventual conviction that seemed so incredible to people who were closely following the case. A question posed by this story is "what constitutes guilt?"
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