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3.5 out of 5 stars
The Cry of the Owl (Highsmith, Patricia)
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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
Patricia Highsmith has her own chilling interpretation of the suspense thriller genre. You wonder not so much about what will happen or how it will happen or who will do it. Rather, the question is: how much worse can things get for the relatively innocent main character, Robert Forrester, who, as the novel goes on, is falsely suspected of a growing number of deaths.

Forrester invites suspicion by prowling around the house of a young woman. Depressed by the failure of his marraige, he has moved to a small Pennsylvannia town and is leading a solitary and bleak life. Looking through the windows of Jenny's house, he is comforted by watching the attractive young woman attend to domestic details: cooking, hanging curtains, talking to her boyfriend over dinner.

Highsmith presents Forrester's prowling as understandable; slightly wrong, and risky, yet certainly not harmful. Mostly one feels sympathy for Forrester, a character drawn in anguished shades of gray. He is a decent man, with no drive or hope, seeking a little illicit happiness.

As the novel progresses, his relationship to Jenny takes a surprising turn of events. Highsmith's mastery lies in the pedestrian inevitability with which she introduces abnormal and even shocking twists of the plot. Because we are lulled into Highsmith's own distinctive world of the darkness of ordinary lives, our anxiety for Forrester is gradually heightened without our even being aware of it. By the time the plot gets around to the events which categorize the novel as a mystery, we are deeply engaged in the psychologies of Forrester and Jenny, as well as several other characters.

The suspense thus springs from their own interior struggles, rather than the machinations of a conventional murder plot. Predictably, therefore, there are no easy solutions in the end, no complex train of events to be tied up in one simple explanation.

The adding up of the actions of people who are no more conscious of why they do what they do than any regular person, has, in this novel, an utterly gripping and painfully believable tragic outcome.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the few books I've ever read, especially in mystery, that gave me a serious case of the creeps. It's not just suspenseful, it's scary. The book has aged, but not dated; if anything I found Highsmith's characters even more disturbing in light of how social mores and psychological knowledge has advanced. But what's ultimately scary about it is that what happens to our hero, Robert Forester, is something that could very easy happen to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time. Read it, it's brilliant.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is the first Patricia Highsmith novel I've read, and all things considered I probably should have started with one of her more popular titles. I did enjoy the book, but thought the action fizzled out a bit about halfway through. It started really well. I liked Robert, I liked the cosy domestic idyll Jenny represented for him, but I got disappointed when they actually got to know each other, and found that the reality of their relationship paled beside his fantasy.
I found Nikkie somewhat unbelievable - could someone so theatrically cruel really exist and would someone like Robert ever be blind enough to marry her? Hopefully not. I also thought Greg's transformation from clean-cut, stable, all-American nice guy to a gun-wielding, porn-viewing maniac a little too radical. If Highsmith was trying to invert our assumptions about Robert and Greg and make a point about appearance and reality she should probably have done so with a little more subtlety.
I expected the plot to take a completely different arc to what it did - did anyone else latch on to the comment Jenny made towards the beginning of the book about how accusing a man falsely of rape was the worst crime a woman could commit? I thought that this was an indicator of how the story would proceed, and felt a little cheated when it turned out to have no bearing on the plot at all.
Having said all that, Highsmith did a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere of tension and nervous expectation, as my completely eroded cuticles will testify. It's a book that has an almost physiological effect on you - you actually experience what the characters feel, rather than using your imagination to try and simulate the experience. The ending is particularly good in this regard as it gives no closure, but instead allows the sense of despair and horror to continue after the book has been closed. This makes it a rather uncomfortable read I suppose, as most people can do without palpitations, a dry throat, and a sense of mounting panic. It takes an incredibly talented writer to make you want to go through such a disquieting experience again, but I certainly do. I will definitely read another Patricia Highsmith novel, and will hopefully find it even better than this one.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
The first couple of novels by Patricia Highsmith that I read were the Ripley-series and after finishing those I was very impressed with her work. Then I decided I also have to read the rest of what she has written and finally let that marvellous Tom Ripley-character go... so the Cry Of The Owl was my next book and I must say that it is not AS brilliant as what I've read before but it was still pretty good. I was never really surprised or shocked by what the characters in this book did and there was not a great plot but thinking about the story line and the characters I must say it is an interesting book. The main character, Robert Forester, is not a twisted minded serial killer or anything but is in fact a very nice man. It is others in the story that are responsible for the killing/death, but everybody suspects Robert of killing. What this book shows is how people think that are prejudiced and how easy it is for them after only reading stories in the paper and listening to gossip to have an opinion about someone they do not even know. Like I said there is not a brilliant plot in the story but it is quite interesting. I'd say: if you like Patricia Highsmith: don't miss this one! And as far as my Patricia Highsmith reading goes: Bring on the next book!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
People often, and mistakenly (in my opinion), view most works from Patricia Highsmith as 'crime novels'. The Cry of the Owl is probably no exception since it contains the requisite murders, false accusations, etc. Judged as a crime novel The Cry of the Owl is only so-so. That is, it's not a page-tuner.
However Ms. Highsmith's true genius was her ability to closely examine the psychological aspects of a criminal, victims, and related parties. In The Cry of the Owl we see how the general public can jump to conclusions when a stranger is accused of murder. While all is revealed at the end, Ms. Highsmith also lets the reader make his/her own judgement ... and so we might either fall into the "guilty until proven innocent" trap or maintain a balanced, impartial view. And she does this all in an economical, easy-to-read style that is readily accessible to most everyone.
No, The Cry of the Owl does not rank on par with her great works such as Strangers on a Train. But the growing numbers of Patricia Highsmith should put this novel on their 'must read' list.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
The story roughly divides into three parts: the first, which is the best, about the relationship between Robert and Jenny; the second, about the suspicion that Robert killed Greg, Jenny's fiance; and the third, about Robert's pursuit by Greg and Nickie, Robert's ex-wife. The book starts off a bit implausibly, when Jenny invites Robert, who she knows is her Peeping Tom, inside her home. But at least the first part has some intrigue because Robert is ambiguous in his motives and trustworthiness. By contrast, any suspense the story's second part has relies on the reader's willingness to believe that the police in the story's locale are dolts compared to the Keystone Cops. The third part is totally over the top in implausibility, with Greg, now a murderer out on bail, joining forces with Nickie to do in Robert. It's typical Highsmith, with lots of drinking and threats of violence, sometimes realized. The book is somewhat more suspenseful, surprisingly, than Strangers on a Train, and it has a startling description of a suicide from the victim's point of view, but it is still unimpressive as a whole. For the diehard Highsmith fans only, I'd say. Highsmith should have stuck to short stories.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2000
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I guess I just don't get it. "The Cry of the Owl" shows promise early in the story as Robert, a nice but confused young man becomes involved (implausibly!) with Jenny,a nice young woman any guy would like to meet and date. But how many girls invite peeping Toms in for coffee instead of calling the cops? The story proceeds apace with actions, characters, dialog and plot twists that simply seem increasingly unreal. I know this is fiction but Ms. Highsmith writes as though she has lived her life in an ivory tower. People like this-except for good old Jenny- just don't exist. Read the book and email me that you believe Nickie! To give the author her due, there is a definite sense of gloom right from the start and the characters, especially Greg and the cop, Lippenholz, add to the depressed aura of foreboding. The book reads quickly.The depressed small Pennsylvania town setting is just right. But then nothing happens- or maybe something did and I just missed it. And if you understand the "ending", you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. It's back to Ann Rule for me!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I liked the Ripley movies and have always wanted to read a book by Patricia Highsmith. This was offered as a Kindle discount deal, and as I've been trying to get used to reading on the Kindle, I took my chance to try one of her books. The characters and story were interesting enough to keep my attention, and a lot of crazy things happened rather quickly. But where was the ending? I kept thinking there was something wrong with the kindle version and the ending was cut off. There was no ending! It just stopped, thud, like a screeching train come to a quick stop. I would still like to read another of hers though, as maybe this one wasn't one of the better. Maybe I'll try the Ripley series.

Someone here mentioned that it was the worst book they had ever read. Apparently they haven't read "Gone Girl". Ha ha.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
After 6 great reads in quick succession I guess I was overdue for a flat tyre, and this book was it. Cardboard characters who behave unbelievably stupidly in the unlikeliest of situations and are boring while doing it. The writing too was pedestrian and at no point was I "involved" in the story or with any of the characters, apart from an occasional urge to smack one of them in the head for wasting my time and an increasingly strong urge to do the same to myself for picking up this book in the first place and then feeling obliged to finish it.

It's billed as suspense and a thriller. About as suspenseful as a commuter train ride and about as thrilling too.

Avoid it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Patricia Highsmith is the queen of the psychological thriller. I love her writing in general and her characterizations in particular. From sociopathic con-artist Tom Ripley (in the five books in her Ripley series) to the thoroughly unforgettable Bruno and Guy duo in Strangers on a Train her characters display an ambiguity that is both unnerving to read about but also make it difficult to tear your eyes away from the page.

Sometimes quirky, sometimes devious, often displaying passive-aggressive behavior, and more often than not just down-rights nuts her characters display an ambiguity that hooks the reader and never lets go. The recently re-released The Cry of the Owl features Robert Forester, 30ish, recently divorced from the shrewish Nickie, guilt ridden and morally compromised by self-inflicted circumstances as he attempts to extricate him-self from a series of bad, and potentially deadly, situations.

Most of Highsmith's novels provide the reader with troubled moody individuals, vivid atmospheric imagery and a degree of cynicism that one can easily assume reflects the author's personal expression of own emotional commentary on the state of mankind.

If you're looking for a great discussion book for your next Book Club meeting may I recommend The Cry of the Owl or any of the aforementioned Ripley books. Highsmith's novels always provide plenty of fodder for discussion into good and evil, suppressed feelings, the psychological motivation of her characters as well as metaphoric references (why do so many of the characters in her novels have facial imperfections - moles in particular- and what do they represent)? Well, you get the idea. 4 1/2 stars
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