Review: Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

20 Books of Summer 2018: Book 4

After I read The Talented Mr. Ripley, I went to my favorite used bookshop in search of more books by Patricia Highsmith. They had two: The Two Faces of January and Those Who Walk Away. It was hard to push aside the expectations I had from reading Ripley so I’m not 100% sure my gripes with this book are fair. Those Who Walk Away is curiously lacking in suspense and intensity—not from a flaw in the writing, but because the would-be murderer fails twice in the first 50 pages for a lack of effort. It’s tough to see him as a legitimate threat and not a well-dressed Scoobie-Doo villain.

Those Who Walk Away begins after the death of Ray Garrett’s wife who committed suicide for reasons that are not fully described. The way her thoughts about sex are mentioned in connection with her death (multiple times) makes me wonder if there’s some coy 1960s code going on that I’m not picking up. Whatever her motives, though, Ray’s father-in-law, Edward Coleman, blames Ray completely.

Coleman first tries to kill Ray on page 3. He shoots Ray in the shoulder and runs off without confirming whether he’s dead (or even hit). There’s some dark humor when Coleman laments the loss of his gun and that he has to find a new method for Round Two. Alas—and it’s not like I’m rooting for Coleman here—the second attempt is similarly low-effort and Ray escapes again. They stalk each other for the rest of the book and while Coleman’s motives are obvious, Ray’s are unclear and malleable. If Ray’s voice had a better focus, I’d have liked the book that much better.

The cat-and-mouse chase is too much like that in The Talented Mr. Ripley while not replicating its success. Similarities: dining in nice restaurants, drinking, running around Europe, disappointing rich and strangely cold parents, luggage woes, passport woes, and visits to American Express. Those Who Walk Away lacks intensity. Ray’s not trying very hard to avoid Coleman, and Coleman’s not trying hard enough to kill Ray.

What I most admire about Ripley is the pacing—how quickly the walls close in even though every aspect of Highsmith’s writing evokes a slower time: Fraud investigations conducted without computers, international correspondence via snail mail, regular trips to American Express (no ATMs!), and news breaking at the pace of the daily papers. In Those Who Walk Away, the world moves just as slowly but the characters are sleep-walking too. And why are none of Coleman’s friends bothered that he has homicidal tendencies towards Ray? Who are these people??

That’s what it comes down to in the end: Who are these people?? And why doesn’t Ray have stronger feelings about these attempts on his life? Most disappointing is a twist I expected (hoped for?) that never came to pass. I don’t know how to rate this book. I would have liked it better if it were the first Highsmith book I’d read. On the other hand, if this were the first, I don’t think I’d have immediately shopped for books two and three…

Overall: 3.8 (out of 5.0) It’s not as lively as it should be. How can this sort of chase be so dull? I still very, very highly recommend The Talented Mr. Ripley which was so twisty-turny that I didn’t even review it for fear of giving too much away. It was such a pleasant surprise (though the book itself is quite dark). I couldn’t put it down!

Translation: Don’t read this. Go read Ripley.


  1. The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck
  2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  3. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  4. Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

Read (**off-list replacements, oops)

  1. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
  2. Embers by Sándor Marái
  3. **The Lost World by Michael Crichton
  4. **Stiff by Mary Roach
  5. **The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  6. While I Was Gone by Sue Miller

Need to Finish/Read

  1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  2. The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie, Jr.
  3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  5. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  6. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  7. The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
  8. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  9. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  10. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  11. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
  12. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
  13. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

Note: Since I’ve read three books that weren’t on my list, three of the above will be bumped from the challenge-queue, but I’m not sure which…

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