Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith: Crime Fiction With Character

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Rating: Blue StarBlue StarBlue Starblue-star 2

Category: Crime fiction

Format: Paperback – from local independent bookshop

Content Warnings: Violence, adultery


Victor Van Allen is proud of the ordered life he has created for himself. He runs a sought-after printing press, holds a respected position in the town, and is the father of a precocious little girl.

The only taint to this perfect facade is his wife, Melinda. Their relationship is tenuously held together by Vic sleeping in a separate room and pretending to ignore her involvements with other men. Yet a new arrival in the sleepy town of Little Wesley means Vic may not be able to look the other way for much longer…


First Page Impressions

Like most people, crime fiction makes me think ‘plot’, so I was initially surprised at how character-centric Deep Water is. The source of the novel’s uniqueness is the detached and eccentric first-person narrator, Vic, whose perspective sets readers off-balance from the start.

Some may find this character-driven approach sets too slow a pace for a crime novel, but I came to appreciate the thick atmosphere of suspicion and repression Highsmith infuses into her seemingly innocuous small-town setting.

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith Book Review Pinterest Graphic

Final Page Reflections

It is not a series of shocking twists that kept Deep Water holding onto my attention, but the complex and dark relationships between characters, particularly Vic and his wife Melinda.

While both characters are deeply unlikeable, Highsmith rendered them so skillfully that I did feel a twinge of sympathy for each side in this tense and loveless relationship. Something about their decaying marriage is just so morbidly compelling.


Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith Mood Cloud

Diversity and Representation

Deep Water does feature an independent and passionate woman as a main character, but since readers are never given her perspective we are forced to see her through the narrator’s male gaze.

Through this character, unhelpful misogynistic stereotypes are also perpetuated, of women as unhinged, manipulative and impossible to satisfy.

Fund Literacy, Care for the Environment

  • Marriage
  • Conformity
  • Love and desire
  • Repression
  • Community
  • Status
  • Class
  • Gender roles

Beyond the Book

As mentioned above, although Deep Water is written by a woman, it also contains harmful misogynistic stereotypes.

This contradiction caused me to ask myself: does a woman writer have responsibility towards other women?

Or can she write whatever the heck she wants, milking the proceeds that are certainly her due for overcoming biased publishing and becoming a successful female author in the 1950s?

Side note: a film adaptation of Deep Water was released earlier this year (April 2020) and it updates the novel to centralise female experiences rather than marginalising them. You can watch the movie trailer here:

Discussion Questions

  1. Did you enjoy reading a character-driven crime novel? Have you read books of this type in the past? Would you seek out similar reads in the future?
  2. Do you believe women writers have a responsibility to challenge misogyny through their books?
  3. Would you agree that the characters in this novel are unlikeable? Are there any that you liked or identified with? Did you feel sympathy for certain characters

Favourite quote:

“Vic didn’t mind at all being considered odd… he was proud of it in a country in which most people aimed at being exactly like everybody else.”

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith Quote

Read if: You’re looking for a classic crime fiction novel with character.

Buy Now from Better World Books:

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Check out my review of another fantastic book by Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley.

Have you read Deep Water? What are your go-to crime fiction recommendations? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!

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3 thoughts on “Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith: Crime Fiction With Character”

  1. You raise some very interesting points about the extent to which female writers should be duty bound to fight patriarchal values in their fiction. It’s a tricky one, and I’m unsure what the right answer is, or even if there is such a thing at all. I can only talk from my own experiences as someone working within the Creative Industry/Performing Arts. I do tend to use the plays I work with as a means of communicating my political opinions, especially around feminism and disability, but I don’t see it as my duty exactly, it’s more a case of me finding it easier to express opinions through art rather than more overt activism, (protests etc), as I am an introvert who fears overt conflict. Not sure what the right answer is, but as ever, you’ve really made me think. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the comment Alyson! It’s definitely not a question with an easy answer. You’re right that art can be a brilliant vehicle for expressing political opinions – especially for us introverts! And your work in the creative industry sounds really rewarding X


  2. Great review, Florence! I love the way you analyse books in such detail and you ask some very thought-provoking questions. I often enjoy crime books that also focus on character, they usually make me connect with it more if the author finds a good balance. Hope you’re having a great weekend! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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