As a thriller nowhere near as exiting or even as well-written as The Talented Mr Ripley, but Highsmith's highly civilised killer-of-necessity and the relationships that form around him remain intensely interesting. I might have been disappointed for the first 50 pages or so, yet immediately after finishing the last page I hurried over to Foyles and bought Ripley Under Ground.
Milan Kundera has recently written that it is the particular duty of the novel to unmask the transcendent beauty of everyday detail. Highsmith's darkly misanthropic narratives would therefore seem to fall well-outside the scope of what the Czech author considers most valuable about the novel form. And yet there is an obvious parallel, as her best stories sardonically tease out the hidden menace and meaninglessness behind ordinary existence.
I haven't seen the movie but I can't imagine that John Malkovich was particularly well cast. My mate Christofer would make a better Tom; the role requires disarming charm and excellent improvisation skills! (Highsmith herself praised Alain Delon as the ideal Mr Ripley.)
I wonder whether she had already been diagnosed with terminal leukemia − like Jonathan Trevanny in this novel − when she wrote it. She wasn't to die for another twenty years however.
Update: Just discovered that Wim Wenders' The American Friend (with Dennis Hopper) is also a loose adaptation of this story.