‘The Blunderer’ by Patricia Highsmith – “Proof is not the thing. Doubt is the thing.”


‘The Blunderer’ by Patricia Highsmith (1954) – 265 pages


No, ‘The Blunderer’ is not my biography.

Although the US crime author Patricia Highsmith was never married, she understood the complications, the petty differences, that can arise between a husband and wife. These differences usually start out as being quite minor, but after repeated instances and increasing aggravations, they often turn into major altercations.

Highsmith captures how we real people think, and takes it just a little farther into the realm of murder. Thus some of us can strongly identify with the murderer or the victim or at least with the situation. Above all, Highsmith’s crime stories and novels are psychologically astute.

A lesser writer would make the good guys and gals really good and the bad guys and gals really bad. However in ‘The Blunderer’, you probably will empathize with a murderer and fully understand and relate to his or her motivations. Highsmith does not let you off the hook.

In ‘The Blunderer’, the lawyer Walter Stackhouse has a fine upstanding life in his suburban New York City home. He gets along well with his many friends, his neighbors, his fellow workers, etc. His wife Clara also earns good money as a real estate agent. They have a maid Claudia to take care of their home. They don’t have children. The couple Walter and Clara get invited to frequent parties and they occasionally host a party at their house.

There is only one problem for Walter. His wife Clara’s overbearing behavior is alienating his friends and associates and spoiling his life.

It isn’t enough anymore to be in love with you physically – because mentally I despise you,” Walter said quietly.

Walter becomes fascinated, obsessed with this news story where a woman in Newark has been killed during a bus rest stop. Walter even drives to Newark to meet that woman’s husband.

I won’t relate any more of the plot, since there are many surprises.

One of the main characters in the novel is the police detective Corby. The way that Corby manhandles suspects, it’s obvious this novel was written before the Miranda ruling of the accuseds’ rights of 1966.

‘The Blunderer’ is a psychologically intense novel with many twists and turns.

A Young Patricia Highsmith

Patricia’s Highsmith’s first novel ‘Strangers on a Train’, published in 1950, was soon after made into an acclaimed movie by Alfred Hitchcock. However in the Author’s Notes in the back of ‘The Blunderer’ it says that despite this, Highsmith was unappreciated in the United States for the entire length of her career.

By now, I expect that Patricia Highsmith probably has more readers than just about any other US author from that time.



Grade:   B

6 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve only read a couple of Highsmith’s Ripley novels, which I thought to be clever & enjoyable. I’m not sure why I didn’t continue reading her work, since I found her bleak amorality fascinating and her plots clever; probably got distracted by something newer (I’m easily distracted!) The Blunderer sounds like a good candidate for the next time I’m in the mood for a dark, psychological mystery.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      I know what you mean. I like Highsmith’s psychological intensity and her clever plot twists, but feel there are better writers out there in terms of style and dexterity at the sentence level. It is not often I read crime fiction, but for a time I was extremely impressed with Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine).

      Liked by 1 person


      • Oh, I love Ruth Rendell! Many years ago, I went through practically all her “Barbara Vine” novels. Like you, I read crime fiction rather sparingly these days (in the past I read much more of it) but I still enjoy it. In fact, I’m in a bit of a dry spell now with my reading (nothing is really grabbing me) so I turned to an unread Vine/Rendell (The Birthday Present) for relief. Although it’s one of her minor works, it still made for a pleasant few hours.

        Liked by 1 person


  2. I thought this was great. Such a compelling read, and a great ending. I love the way Highsmith allows her readers into her characters heads.

    Liked by 1 person


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