Ripley Under Ground
First US edition
|Publisher||Heinemann (UK) &
Random House (USA)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||298 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 9997413113 (first edition, hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Talented Mr. Ripley|
|Followed by||Ripley's Game|
Six years after the events of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Ripley is now in his early 30s, living a comfortable life in France with his heiress wife, Héloïse Plisson. The lifestyle at his estate, Belle Ombre, is supported by Dickie Greenleaf's fortune, occasional fence work with an American named Reeves Minot, and Derwatt Ltd. — an art forgery scheme that he helped set up years before.
Derwatt Ltd., in which Ripley is a silent partner, involves himself, two Londoners — photographer Jeff Constant and freelance journalist Ed Banbury — and Bernard Tufts, a painter whom Ripley convinced to forge Derwatt paintings. Years prior, the painter Philip Derwatt disappeared and committed suicide in Greece. After Derwatt's death, his friends Constant and Banbury began to publicize his work and managed to sell a number of authentic paintings. Thanks to their PR efforts Derwatt becomes more and more famous and his paintings ever more valuable. When the original Derwatts begin to run out, Ripley suggests pretending that Derwatt went into seclusion in Mexico. Bernard Tufts' forgeries are sold as Derwatts and a gallery called the Buckmaster, is opened to handle the work. The money is rolling in, but Bernard, who had idolized Derwatt, is plagued by guilt for forging his paintings.
As the novel opens, the Derwatt enterprise is threatened by a disgruntled American collector, Thomas Murchison, who (correctly) surmises that one of his paintings is a forgery. Worried that the lid is about to be blown on the whole scheme, Ripley decides to go to London and impersonate Derwatt, meet with Murchison and convince him that the paintings are genuine. Ripley is unable to convince Murchison, however, particularly as Bernard meets with the latter and tells him not to buy any more Derwatts. Ripley, as himself, invites Murchison to Belle Ombre to inspect his own Derwatt painting (also a fake) to try to persuade him from taking the case to a Tate Gallery curator and the police.
At Belle Ombre, Murchison inspects Ripley's painting and believes it is also a fake. Realizing that the argument is futile, Ripley reveals the entire scam to Murchison, asking for mercy for Bernard's sake. Murchison refuses, however, so Ripley kills him. He takes Murchison's suitcase and painting to Orly Airport and abandons them on the curb near the Departures entrance. He then buries the body just inside the woods near his house.
Chris Greenleaf, Dickie's cousin, comes to stay while on a European tour. He notices the fresh grave outside the house but doesn't think much of it. Bernard also comes to visit Ripley, rattled by the recent events and saying he wants to confess everything to the police. Ripley tells Bernard that he killed Murchison and, realizing his own terrible choice of a gravesite, asks him to help move the body. Together, they dump the corpse in a river.
The French police, and Inspector Webster from the Met, both investigate the case on behalf of Murchison's wife, making trips to Belle Ombre and inspecting the house and grounds. Things are further complicated for Ripley as Héloïse returns from a Greek holiday and discovers a man hanging in the cellar. It turns out to just be stuffed clothing, a prop left by Bernard as a suicide in effigy. Bernard leaves a note suggesting that he is going to confess his forgeries. When Bernard returns to Belle Ombre, Héloïse leaves in disgust. Driven over the edge by guilt, Bernard unsuccessfully tries to strangle Ripley, whom he blames for starting the forgery scheme; Ripley feels sorry for the disturbed man and does not retaliate. Later, however, Bernard again tries to kill Ripley, this time knocking him out with a shovel and burying him alive in Murchison's empty grave. Ripley manages to escape and returns to London to impersonate Derwatt for a second appearance, this time for Mrs. Murchison and Inspector Webster. Mrs. Murchison decides to pay a visit to Belle Ombre, the last place her husband was seen.
Back at Belle Ombre, Ripley entertains Mrs. Murchison. After she leaves, Ripley realizes that Bernard is contemplating suicide. Feeling responsible, Ripley goes to look for him in Greece, Paris, and finally Salzburg, Austria. There he finds Bernard, but the painter believes Ripley is a ghost - he thinks he killed him in France. Bernard runs from Ripley and leaps off a cliff to his death. Ripley uses the corpse to tie up loose ends; he partially cremates and buries the body, making sure to smash or hide any teeth. He then goes to the police with the information that Derwatt killed himself there. Seeing suicidal journal entries, the police presume that Bernard also killed himself in Salzburg by jumping off a bridge. With Bernard and Derwatt both gone, the art forgery allegations have no active leads and Derwatt Ltd's existence is no longer in jeopardy.
The novel ends with Ripley's being content in bed with Héloïse, who prefers to remain ignorant of what he has done and, further, how exactly he makes his money. He receives an optimistic-sounding call from the gallery, but still fears that the next one will be from the police, who have noticed that people tend to die after meeting Ripley.
According to Michael Dirda, Ripley Under Ground considers authenticity, and the difference between appearance and reality. As Ripley admires a pair of Derwatt paintings on his walls, he actually comes to prefer the forgery over the genuine artwork. Dirda notes, "Fakery, though, suffuses every page of Ripley Under Ground. Tom pretends to be Derwatt. Murchison appears to catch a plane at Orly. An effigy of Bernard is found hanging by its neck. A supposedly dead man rises from his grave. Bernard is haunted by what seems a ghost. In this counterfeit world only the pragmatic Tom thrives, for he alone recognizes that there is no distinction that matters between what is real and what is only apparently real."
- The novel was filmed in 2005: Ripley Under Ground stars Barry Pepper as Ripley and features Willem Dafoe, Alan Cumming, and Tom Wilkinson in supporting roles. The film was directed by Roger Spottiswoode.
- The 1977 film The American Friend, primarily based on Ripley's Game, also uses plot elements of Ripley Under Ground.