"The talented Miss Highsmith" by Joan Schenkar and "Iron House" by John Hart
Suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith had a relationship with her mother that only Hitchcock could love. She had freakishly huge hands and feet. Calculating, irascible and always intriguing, she kept written lists of the failings of her long string of women lovers. She trusted no one with her money, and spent her final years in self-imposed, lonely exile in Europe. If you've ever wondered what shaped the mind behind the twisted, addictive "Mr. Ripley" series, this hefty bio will tell you, entertainingly and exhaustively. Schenkar is remarkable not only for her revelations on Highsmith's life and how it influenced her work, but also for the reader-friendly structure she devised: Only partly linear, the bio is organized in themed sections that skip about chronologically but leave the reader with a clearer vision of who its subject was. Finally, Schenkar adds appendices including significant locales in Highsmith's New York and reproductions of her lists and diagrams -- additions that the meticulous, chart-obsessed Highsmith would have appreciated.
Once an asylum for the criminally insane, Iron House, which "humped up against the foothills" of North Carolina, later became an orphanage. For Michael and his fragile younger brother, Julian, Iron House "was not just a place. It was the hard, jagged mouth of the world that vomited them out." In a Dickensian twist of fate, Michael flees the orphanage, but "violence trails him like a scent." He becomes an assassin, an "elegant killer ... like da Vinci if the Mona Lisa was body count."
This powerful Southern Gothic novel is an impressive but violent read, especially when Michael's quest to save his brother returns him to a decaying Iron House and the madness and malevolence it spewed forth.