New Trade Paper Fiction: The Crime Writer – Jill Dawson

When customers come to you for a follow up after Magpie Murders, hand them Dawson’s homage to Patricia Highsmith. It’s another suspenseful crime drama that pays homage to an individual writer’s brand of storytelling. And in this case, the alcoholic, lesbian and deeply eccentric Highsmith herself is the protagonist of this most Highsmithian murder tale.

Based in the historical record of a year that Highsmith spent in rural Suffolk and told in the writer’s voice, readers get a feverish, twisted peek into a troubled, talented mind of the writer—as well as a distinct sense of the new kind of crime fiction she intended to write.

Some details were so willfully odd (for instance, that she collected and cultivated snails) that the sent me to Wikipedia where I learned that this novel hews quite closely to Highsmith’s actual life and her opinions on writing.

It’s a dark psychological character study of desire, abuse, rage and paranoia. Near the end of the book the fictional Pat Highsmith offers a comment which is, I think, the key to that Dawson is up to in this book:

“What if the fantasy life is the real one? What if –well, what’s that Virginia Woolf quote about us living two lives at any time and one of them being the life of the mind, the imagination? Who is to say that isn’t the most valid, the most real . . .”

This was a fun read for genre fans who like it dark—a page-turner that’s both smart and pulpy. Dawson has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize and has won the Whitbread. Already out in England, The Crime Writer been well-reviewed; Paula Hawkins called it “brilliant.”

 When acclaimed suspense writer Patricia Highsmith, the antiheroine of this dreamlike, high-tension novel…moves into a Suffolk cottage in 1965, she welcomes the quiet seclusion. She looks forward to working on her new book, collecting snails, and maybe enjoying a weekend with her married lover, Sam Gosforth, who’s ‘everything I’m not.’… Pat has always been fascinated by what moves a person to murder, and she applies fierce resolve to the aftermath of a shocking act of violence that would not have been out of place in her novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. Dawson smoothly marries fact with fiction to capture the famously prickly Highsmith while astutely exploring love, obsession, and the myriad shades of darkness within us all.”
Publishers Weekly

“[I]n a manner that seems deliberately modeled on Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt (filmed recently as Carol), Pat is absolutely unguarded against her love for the upper-class Sam. These two sides come together in a catastrophe that occurs halfway through the novel. It’s a clever conceit, plunging an author into a scenario right out of her own queasy-making fiction, and it’s adroitly handled, forcing Pat to live out her ideas of crime and guilt.”
Kirkus Reviews

Ventriloquy is Dawson’s forte…. This fascinating, skillfully constructed novel builds a convincing picture of Patricia Highsmith, her spiky, awkward intelligence and (in a phrase of her biographer, Joan Schenkar) ‘the low, flat, compellingly psychotic murmur’ of both her life and her prose.”
The Spectator

“Fantastically moody and appealingly unhinged — a piece of sophisticated literary ventriloquism that achieves a wonderful blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy.”
— Sarah Waters in the Guardian

The Crime Writer (9780062669582) by Jill Dawson. $15.99 trade paper original. 6/6/17 on sale.

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