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on May 19, 2015
Patricia Highsmith’s wonderfully deviant, amoral characters set her books apart in a genre where sociopaths are the norm and just about essential for any psychological thriller worth its salt. No other suspense author drills down into the inner workings of their players quite like Highsmith did. Much of the reason is that she took her time to build her characters, letting small details work their tension, blending the mundane with the immoral so that we as readers identify with some fairly reprehensible people before we can be repelled by them. A saved letter about an unattended funeral speaks volumes about a young man’s feelings towards his father, allowing us to comprehend his later actions. A man’s love for his young wife makes us overlook a good deal of his criminal behavior. In Highsmith’s novels it’s not easy to discern the hero from the villain and often, as in her popular Ripley books, it’s the criminal (usually murderer) we end up rooting for. The same forces are at work in The Two Faces of January but to a subtler degree. You won’t find a truly good person in these pages but it doesn’t matter. In this story of three expat Americans who cross paths in early 1960s Athens, you’ll want at least one of them to get away with breaking the law.

Rydel is a wandering Peter Pan living off his grandmother’s money, putting off the inevitable trip back to the US to face responsibility and tedium, when he encounters Chester, a crooked stockbroker on the run, who accidentally kills a Greek policeman who is onto him. For no other reason than Chester reminds Rydel of his father, Rydel helps Chester hide the body and acquires forged passports for him and his comely wife, Colette. Chester then invites Rydel to accompany him and Colette to Crete to help the couple navigate their way out of Greece, beyond the reach of the authorities (Rydel speaks Greek and has shady connections). But Colette’s infatuation for Rydel upsets the applecart, and Chester sees red. No one seems to think twice about the death of a policeman, let alone marital vows. It may even feel like love--for two of the three anyway--but it doesn’t end well.

Rydel is one of Highsmith’s better creations, quite affable as he keeps veering away from doing the right thing. He just can’t seem to. The reader understands. Chester is a perfect villain, because he knows who he is. Colette is a well-nuanced temptress, made of real flesh and blood, with a heart and soul. The secondary characters in this novel are all Highsmith quality as well.

I’m not sure why this book is trending towards three stars in the ratings—it’s one of Highsmith’s better ones, with its simple tale of three people who think they can do no wrong but end up doing an awful lot of it.

My only minor disappointment came in the final few pages, where I was hoping for one final twist that didn’t come. The ending I envisioned seemed glaringly obvious to me but Patricia Highsmith clearly wasn’t thinking what I was thinking when she penned this book—or maybe she didn’t want to be predictable. But it works, and redeems one of the characters.

Regardless, by the time Two Faces is rolling, the plot feels inevitable. And that’s the mark of a master.
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on June 15, 2016
More than crime novels, Patricia Highsmith's books are dramas, with some elements of tragedy. "The Two Faces of January" has some similarities with other books of her, like "Strangers on a Train" and "The Tremor of Forgery". The main characters lives are entangled in a complex way, they antagonize but are attracted to each other. Unlike "Strangers on a Train", however, when the casual meeting of the two protagonists will lead to crimes, in "The Two Faces of January", it is a crime and the witness of this crime that will lead the protagonists to develop a relationship. A very peculiar and unstable love triangle will form, but, as it always happens in Highsmith's novel, a sexual ambiguity prevails - the two male protagonists not so much dispute the love of the female but have to manage the ambivalent feelings of atraction and repulsion between themselves.

One again, Patricia Highsmith give us a dark and disturbing view of human relationships under unusual circumstances.
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on May 21, 2014
When I heard that THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY was recently made into a film, I decided to read the novel before I see it. I've read several of Patricia Highsmith's novels (Strangers on a Train,The Talented Mr. Ripley) and many of her wonderful short stories, but this title was unfamiliar to me. I'm glad I decided to read it. This is a terrific suspense novel.

Rydal Keener, an amoral, bored young American man (shades of Mr. Ripley!), is knocking around Europe in 1962. In Athens, he comes to the aid of an older American man, Chester MacFarland, who's just accidentally killed a Greek detective. Chester reminds Rydal of his late father, with whom he had issues, and Chester's young wife, Collette, is very pretty and very--um, available. So Rydal joins the pair, getting them false passports and helping them flee to Crete. He soon learns that Chester is a notorious con man who's wanted back in the States. Rydal is very attracted to Collette, and the feelings are mutual. Chester doesn't like that, and we already know he can be a violent man. We also know from the book's title that dual personalities will play an important part in the outcome (the month of January is named after Janus, the two-faced god). Forced to stick together as they run from the authorities, these three people act out a new version of an old Greek drama.

Graham Greene called Patricia Highsmith a "poet of apprehension," and that's a perfect description of her. What I love about her stories is the feeling that we don't always know what's going to happen next. This novel is unsettling, to say the least, and it really casts a spell. It's a gripping read, start to finish. I can't wait to see the movie! Highly recommended.
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on August 2, 2016
I do enjoy Patricia Highsmith novels. This one was no exception. It is a tense drama and I was impatient to reach the end to find out what happened. However, I did not like any of the characters. Chester was an unlikeable con man. Colette had married for money. I could not understand Rydal at all although I realised that his relationship with his father affected his relationship with Chester. I felt that did not totally explain his behaviour.
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on October 23, 2014
This novel about an American con man who murders a Greek detective in Athens then goes on the run with the help of his wife and another young American who’s bumming around Europe to escape his family’s high career expectations for him nicely captures a time and a place along with an atmosphere of amoral elegant decadence. The trio flee the scene of the crime, an Athens hotel where they stuff a dead detective in a maintenance closet, and they go to Crete then on to Paris, hiding in bars, restaurants, hotels, and archaeological sites while their mutual suspicions and paranoias play out. They can’t trust each other but they have no one else to turn to because of the crime that implicates all three of them so they must continue on in the company of possible friends and possible enemies. The tension is nicely balanced between their inner demons and the authorities who are in hot pursuit and the setting of tourist post-war Europe gives this novel a sophisticated polish typical of the novels of Patricia Highsmith.
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on December 17, 2015
No surprise to anyone that this is one of Highsmith's masterpieces. Her understanding of human motivation and behavior is unmatched.
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on May 28, 2016
This book has all the emotional tension found in Patricia Highsmith's books. Menace hangs on every page and you never know what is coming, just that it won't end well for someone. All the characters are inherently flawed and their interaction drags the reader into a shadowy world.
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on December 8, 2014
While it is not her best, it was a good read and worth the time invested in reading it. The movie currently playing and based on this novel had the advantage of hindsight and tightened the plot considerably.
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on June 12, 2016
Full of twists and turns, this is a page turner I couldn't put down. One of the best psychological thrillers I've read, so be prepared to block out the time it takes to finish the book because you will want to read it beginning to end in one sitting.
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on October 21, 2014
This is a very interesting story. It's a tad too long and has some (to me) unnecessary twists, but the story is interesting, and the action is tense. An ineffectual young man abets a white-collar thief turned murderer and becomes part of an international chase. A true Highsmith tale. Nice read.
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