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From the queen of psychological suspense
on May 25, 2015
Sydney Bartleby is an American living in Suffolk with his English wife Alicia; she lives quite comfortably on her inheritance, while Syd is a struggling mystery writer, hacking away at his great mystery novel while failing to sell crime-show screenplays to television studios. Their marriage on the rocks, after one spat too many Alicia heads to London and leaves Syd alone for a few weeks—and both look forward to the quiet and solitude. Syd's writing picks up and he makes sales, but as the weeks pass and his wife fails to return, suspicion begins to fall on Syd. Why hasn’t she contacted anyone? Why hasn’t she collected her weekly inheritance of £50? And why did his neighbor Mrs. Lilybanks see him walking around one night, carrying a heavy carpet over his shoulder—who buries a carpet in the middle of the night? The Police change their investigation from a missing persons case to a murder; and to complicate things, Sydney begins living out his own murder-mystery plots, play-acting the game of murder under the watchful eye of the investigators…
While Highsmith does an excellent job building tension around this concept---a murder without a corpse---Syd's character I found a bit frustrating. Highsmith has a reputation for trapping her characters in unavoidable circumstances, usually through their own guilt and frantic attempts to escape. But I felt Syd wasn't so much "trapped" as "merely accepting the circumstances and refusing to challenge them"---whenever he learns something that would remove suspicion from himself, he keeps it hidden, continuing to play chicken with the investigators. He knows he's innocent and doesn't worry, at which point why should I? Yet Highsmith still crafts a tense, foreboding atmosphere. Not a 100% success for me, though I will try again with another Highsmith and see if that one is a better fit.