For the English architect, see Thomas Ripley (architect).
Tom Ripley series (the Ripliad)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
Ripley Under Ground (1970)
Ripley's Game (1974)
The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980)
Ripley Under Water (1991)

Thomas "Tom" Phelps Ripley is a fictional character in a series of crime novels by Patricia Highsmith, as well as several film adaptations. The series of five books based around Ripley's exploits is collectively called "the Ripliad."[1]

Character overview

Highsmith characterizes Ripley as a "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral"[2] con artist who always gets away with his crimes, including murder.

Book magazine ranks Ripley #60 on its list of the 100 Best Characters in Fiction since 1900.[3]

In the novels

Highsmith introduced Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) as a young man making a meager living off his "talents": forgery, impersonation and lying. Relatively little is revealed about his background, except that he was orphaned at age five when his parents drowned, was raised in Boston by an emotionally abusive aunt, and moved to New York City at 20.

In The Talented Mr. Ripley, he is paid to go to Italy by Herbert Greenleaf, a rich shipping magnate, to convince his son Dickie (a half-remembered acquaintance) to return to the family business. Ripley befriends the younger Greenleaf and quickly finds himself infatuated with the rich young man's indulgent, carefree lifestyle and brash, confident personality. Ripley eventually murders Greenleaf, however, after the young playboy grows tired of him and spurns his friendship. He then steals Greenleaf's identity, using his passport to travel in luxury and enjoy pretending to be someone other than himself. He does the latter to perfection, imitating Greenleaf to the point that he virtually becomes him. This charade gets him in trouble, however, whenever he is confronted by people who know both him and Greenleaf.

After murdering Greenleaf's suspicious friend, Freddie Miles, Ripley forges Greenleaf's will, leaving himself the other man's inheritance. The novel ends with Ripley, having narrowly evaded being found out and arrested, sailing to Greece and rejoicing in his new-found wealth.

As revealed in the sequel, Ripley Under Ground (1970), set six years later, Ripley eventually settles down into a life of leisure in Belle Ombre, an estate on the outskirts of the fictional village of Villeperce-sur-Seine, which is stated as being "some forty miles south of Orly" (Ripley Under Ground, Chapter 1), "some twelve miles" from Fontainebleau (Ripley's Game, Chapter 3), and "seven kilometres" from Moret (The Boy Who Followed Ripley, Chapter 1). By then, he has added to his already considerable fortunes by marrying Héloïse Plisson, a rich socialite who has suspicions about how he makes his money, but prefers not to know. He avoids direct involvement in crime as much as possible in order to preserve his somewhat shady reputation. He still finds himself involved in criminal enterprises, however, often aided by Reeves Minot, a small-time fence. Ripley's criminal exploits include a long-running art forgery scam (introduced in Ripley Under Ground and consistently mentioned in later books), an entanglement with the Mafia (in Ripley's Game), and several murders. While he comes perilously close to being caught several times, he is never arrested or even seriously suspected for any of his crimes. The series' final entry, Ripley Under Water (1991), ends with Ripley once again evading the police, presumably to live the rest of his life in comfort and anonymity.


Ripley is portrayed as completely devoid of conscience and is capable of cold-blooded violence (he beats most of his victims to death). He has his own code of ethics, however: In Ripley's Game, Highsmith explains that Ripley detests murder, and often tries to reason with his victims to see things his way. It is only when people threaten him with violence or the police that he does what he thinks is "necessary." He has real, non-exploitative friendships with other characters, and has regretted resorting to murder (albeit without true remorse). His primary desire, at least after coming into money, is to live quietly in great comfort, and he sees other people as expendable objects to be used for that end.


While it is never directly stated whether Ripley is gay or bisexual, certain points in the series suggest that he has some degree of unacknowledged attraction toward men. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, for example, his obsession with Dickie Greenleaf borders on the sexual, and he harbors a strong fear that others will think he is gay. In subsequent novels, he regards his wife as more a possession than a person, and is never truly sexually attracted to her; in Ripley Under Ground, he describes going impotent with laughter while having sex with her on their honeymoon. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley also recalls joking that he is considering giving up both men and women altogether, and notes that he rarely thinks about sex.


In several of these respects, Ripley is portrayed as a psychopath of uncommonly brilliant intellect. He has typically been regarded as a "cultivated,"[1] "agreeable and urbane psychopath."[2] (Ripley's behavior, as described in the Ripliad, corresponds to virtually all of the characteristics of Hare's revised psychopathy checklist, PCL-R.)

In film

Highsmith's first three Ripley novels have been adapted into films several times. The Talented Mr. Ripley was filmed as Plein Soleil in 1960, starring Alain Delon as Ripley, and under its original title in 1999, starring Matt Damon; Ripley Under Ground was adapted to film in 2005, starring Barry Pepper; and Ripley's Game was filmed in 1977 as The American Friend, starring Dennis Hopper, and under its original title in 2002, starring John Malkovich.

In a review of Plein Soleil, film critic Roger Ebert described the most common interpretation of the character as "charming, literate, and a monster." [4]



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