The Two Faces of January

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For the 2014 film, see The Two Faces of January (film).
The Two Faces of January
First edition
Author Patricia Highsmith
Cover artist Polly Cameron
Country United States
Language English language
Genre Psychological thriller
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
OCLC 16923778
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3558.I366 T8 1988

The Two Faces of January (1964) is a psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith. Its title alludes to the two faces of the Roman god Janus, but through the name of the month dedicated to him.


The book revolves around American characters, but is set in Athens, Crete, and Paris. It involves a con artist, Chester MacFarland, who accidentally kills a Greek policeman who is investigating him for stock swindles in the United States. MacFarland's wife, Colette, and a young American, Rydal Keener, become involved in covering up Chester's role in the death.

Plot outline[edit]

42 year-old Chester MacFarland is a fraudster whose Ponzi scheme-like operations and the consequent danger of being tracked down have made him temporarily leave the United States. Now, in early January, he is touring Europe with his glamorous 25-year-old wife Colette. On their arrival in Athens, the past seems to be catching up with MacFarland when he is visited and interrogated in their hotel room by a Greek police detective, whom MacFarland accidentally kills during a struggle in the en-suite bathroom. Panicking, MacFarland hides the body in a broom closet, for which he enlists the help of a recent acquaintance of his, a young American law graduate and poet named Rydal Keener, who is inexplicably attracted to McFarland because he reminds him of the hateful figure of his recently deceased father.

Bound together for the foreseeable future, the trio decide it is best to leave Athens, but not Greece, immediately. They take a flight to Crete and install themselves there in a hotel under assumed names and by means of forged passports provided by a friend of Keener's. Colette, who seems to have a record of infidelity, unashamedly flirts with Keener in front of her hard-drinking husband, whose jealousy eventually gets the better of him. On a rainy morning, while they are the only tourists visiting the palace of Knossos, MacFarland tries to kill Keener by dropping on him one of the pithoi on display from an upper floor. He accidentally kills Colette instead. Both MacFarland and Keener separately flee the scene of the crime undetected and take the same boat back to Athens, now more dependent on each other than ever.

Back in Athens, MacFarland is interviewed by the police again and in his statement puts all the blame, including the murder of his wife, on Keener. At the same time, he hires a contract killer to get rid of Keener once and for all, not knowing that the hitman, whom he pays in advance, is in fact a florist. MacFarland has been set up by Keener and his Greek friend. In the end, while Keener has gone into hiding in order not to be tracked down by the Greek police, MacFarland succeeds in procuring another false passport and books a flight to Paris.

In Paris, MacFarland learns through the irregular correspondence, via the American Express poste restante service, which he has been keeping with his American business associates that his enterprises there are no longer lucrative and that the U.S. authorities may be looking for him. Still he believes that going back to the States and starting afresh under a new name is the only option left to him. He is flabbergasted to be accosted, and blackmailed, by Keener, whom he assumed dead in Athens. Leaving behind all his possessions except his cash stuffed into his pockets, he travels by taxi to Lyon and then on to Marseille, where he intends to get a boat or a plane to America. However, hopelessly drunk, he is mugged in the dark streets of Marseille, robbed of everything except his overcoat, and arrested and identified by the French police.

While in police custody, MacFarland gets hold of a guard's pistol, fires at him, and is shot in turn. Dying, he exonerates Keener. Keener expresses an interest in attending MacFarland's funeral.


The publishers quote the following positive reviews:

  • "Shifts of ground stand metaphor for shifts in relationship; psychology is beautifully interleaved with a gritty genius loci." - Library Journal


A film adaptation was released in 2014.

External references[edit]