Joan Schenkar -->reviewed by Kelly Jane Torrance -->

Patricia Highsmith could be an unpleasant, even nasty, woman. She never had a lasting romantic relationship and died, in 1995, alone, after alienating some friends and many lovers. Neighbors tell tales of her rants in late life against Jews and other minorities. She fed her cats better than she did her house guests, and sometimes hinted at preferring the more silent company.

Her characters are similarly vicious. Her most famous creation, Tom Ripley, kills without compunction. Her books are populated, in fact, with murderers, some guilt-ridden, some not. The women don’t fare much better, often portrayed as flighty, promiscuous, or both. Her creatures of both sexes are a...