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Thomas "Tom" Ripley is a con artist, thief and murderer. He is the protagonist and anti hero of Patricia Highsmith's crime novel series as known as the "Ripliad" series.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Thomas "Tom" Ripley was orphaned at the age of five when his parents drowned in Boston Harbor. He was raised by his cold-hearted aunt Dottie, who mocked him as a "sissy". He tried to run away many times until the age of 20, when he moved to New York City. There, he lives a hand-to-mouth existence as a small-time con artist. He manages to get by on his three talents: "forging signatures, telling lies, and impersonating practically anybody."
Tom Ripley is described as "suave, agreeable and utterly amoral". While he is charismatic, polite and friendly, he has no conscience and is willing to do anything - even commit murder - to get what he wants. He is deeply insecure and envies people who have the money and status he craves. He also covets their identities, as he believes it is "better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody".
It is also implied throughout the series that he may be gay or bisexual; he harbors strong, quasi-romantic feelings for several male characters, and, while he is married to a woman in later books, they have a nonexistent sex life and he seems to regard her as more of a possession than a spouse.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Tom is approached by wealthy shipbuilder Herbert Greenleaf, who thinks that Tom was a college classmate of his son, Dickie. He offers Tom $1,000 to go to Mongibello, Italy, where Dickie lives, and bring him back to the U.S. to join the family business. Tom accepts, even though he has never actually met Dickie. In Mongibello, Tom befriends Dickie and his girlfriend Marge, and insinuates himself into their lives. He falls in love with Dickie's opulent, carefree life; he also becomes obsessed with Dickie himself.
Eventually, Dickie grows tired of Tom and spurns his friendship. Not wanting to go back to his life of poverty, Tom gets the idea to kill Dickie and steal his identity. He murders Dickie on a rowboat by beating his head in with an oar, and disposes of the body. He then forges his name on Dickie's passport and copies Dickie's dress, hairstyle and mannerisms; he becomes Dickie, to the point that he is better at being the other man than being himself.
When Dickie's friend Freddie Miles catches Tom in the act of impersonating Dickie, Tom kills him, and goes on the run from the police, switching identities as needed. He forges Dickie's will, leaving himself Dickie's inheritance, and persuade Herbert Greenleaf and the police that Dickie had killed Freddie and committed suicide. Tom goes to Greece to enjoy his newfound wealth, but reflects that he will pay for it with a lifetime of paranoia, as he would "see police waiting for him at every pier he ever approached".
Ripley Under Ground
Six years later, Tom is living a life of leisure at a country estate, Belle Ombre, in Villeperce, France. He still lives off Dickie's trust fund, but has added to his fortunes by marrying a wealthy socialite named Heloise Plisson and becoming a silent partner in a gallery that sells forged paintings, purportedly by a long-dead artist named Derwatt. He also does occasional work for small-time gangster Reeves Minot, but avoids direct involvement in crime as much as possible to preserve his somewhat shady reputation.
He runs into trouble when an art collector named Thomas Murchison contacts him with suspicions that his Derwatt paintings are fake. He tries to bribe Murchison, but Murchison refuses and threatens to go to the police. Tom kills him by hitting him over the head with a bottle of wine, and disposes of the body in a river near his house.
His problems are not over, however: Bernard Tufts, the artist who forges the paintings for Tom's company, suffers a crisis of conscience and says he will turn himself in and expose the fraud. Tom impersonates Derwatt at a gallery opening to allay suspicion. When Bernard sees him, he has a breakdown and believes that Derwatt has come back from the dead to punish him; frightened and consumed with guilt, he commit suicide. Tom is briefly afraid that he has been caught, but the police investigation leaves him in the clear.
Tom is insulted at a party by a neighbor, Jonathan Trevanny, a poor picture framer who has leukemia. To get back at him, Tom spreads a rumor that Jonathan's leukemia has gotten worse, and tells Minot that Jonathan is a hitman who can help him dispose of a rival gangster. When Minot approaches Jonathan with the job, he refuses, but reconsiders when he hears the rumors about his health. When he receives news (supplied by Tom) that he has only a few months to live, he becomes Minot's freelance assassin in order to provide for his wife and son after he is gone. Tom is fascinated by the situation, and decides to intervene in one of Jonathan's assassinations, ultimately saving his life by helping him kill a gangster and several of his bodyguards.
When the Mafia comes after both of them, Tom and Jonathan hole up in Belle Ombre, sending Heloise and Tom's housekeeper, Madame Annette, away on vacation to keep them safe. They kill several Mafiosi, but Jonathan is mortally wounded while pushing Tom out of the way of their gunfire. Touched and puzzled by Jonathan's sacrifice, Tom leaves his wife and son the money Jonathan had earned as a hired killer.
The Boy Who Followed Ripley
Tom befriends Frank Pierson, a teenage boy from a wealthy family who has run away from home. When Tom finds out that Frank murdered his own father, Tom takes him in to live at Belle Ombre, seeing in the troubled boy a younger version of himself. Eventually, however, Frank is kidnapped and taken to Berlin. Tom goes to Berlin and rescues Frank with Minot's help. He takes Frank back to his family, and tells him to forget about the murder and get on with his life. Later that day, however, Frank commits suicide by jumping off the same cliff he had pushed his father from. Tom is surprised to find that he is devastated by Frank's death.
Ripley Under Water
Tom's new neighbors, David and Janice Pritchard, hear of Tom's shady reputation and begin prying into his life, simply because they dislike him. When they find evidence incriminating him in several murders, Tom goes after them with the help of his business partner at the gallery, Ed Bradbury. Tom and Ed eventually get into a confrontation with the Pritchards that ends with the couple falling into a lake; Tom does nothing to help, allowing them to drown over Ed's half-hearted objections. Tom once again escapes capture by the police, and goes back to his life as if nothing has happened.
Ripley has been portrayed by five different actors in film:
- By Alain Delon in Purple Noon, a 1960 adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley
- By Dennis Hopper - who also portrayed Frank Booth, Deacon, President Koopa, Tony the Wolf and Howard Payne - in the 1977 film The American Friend, an adaptation of Ripley's Game
- By Matt Damon - who also portrayed Dr. Mann and Colin Sullivan - in the 1999 film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley
- By John Malkovich - who also played Mitch Leary, Cyrus Grissom, Humma Kavula, Quentin Turnbull and Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont - in the 2002 adaptation of Ripley's Game
- By Barry Pepper - who also played Lucky Ned Pepper - in the 2005 adaptation of Ripley Under Ground