Patricia Highsmith; U.S. Mystery Novelist

<i> From Reuters</i>

American mystery novelist Patricia Highsmith, whose intricately plotted psychological thrillers included “Strangers on a Train,” died Saturday in a Swiss hospital, doctors said. She was 74.

A doctor at La Carita Hospital in Locarno said she had been admitted several days ago. He gave no details of her illness, but the writer, who had lived for some years in the Alpine village of Tegna, was believed to have been suffering from leukemia.

Highsmith wrote a string of highly acclaimed suspense novels starting with “Strangers on a Train” (1950), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock with screenplay collaboration by Raymond Chandler. There followed a series of books featuring the character Tom Ripley, a psychopath, as her hero. Her last published book was “Ripley Under Water” (1991).

Novelist Graham Greene once said of Highsmith that she had created a claustrophobic and irrational world, one “we enter each time with a sense of personal danger. . . . It is not the world as we once believed we knew it, but it is frighteningly more real to us than the house next door.”

A reviewer in the London Times Literary Supplement in 1971 called Highsmith “the crime writer who comes closest to giving crime writing a good name.”


Born Patricia Plangman in Ft. Worth, Tex., in 1921, she was reared by her grandparents until the age of 6 after her mother and father divorced. She later took the name of her stepfather, Stanley Highsmith. An unhappy child, she commented later that she had found solace in books early on after her grandmother taught her to read at age 2.

Highsmith wrote her first short stories while in high school. After graduating from Barnard College in New York, she worked briefly as a writer of comic strips before Harper’s Bazaar published one of her stories in 1945.

“Strangers on a Train” was hailed by one reviewer as “a rarely perceptive study in criminal psychology.”

Highsmith, a longtime expatriate, had lived briefly in Italy and England before settling in 1966 in a tiny village in France. She moved recently to Switzerland, where she lived with her cat, Charlotte.