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The Tremor of Forgery

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,433 ratings  ·  176 reviews
Under the hot desert sun nothing is quite as it seems. Howard Ingham, an American writer, is sent to Tunisia to gather material for a movie, a love story too sordid to be set in America. But his director fails to arrive as scheduled and the erratic mails bring news of infidelities and suicide.

Ingham, for reasons obscure even to himself, decides to stay on and work instead
Paperback, 264 pages
Published January 14th 1994 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 1969)
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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
The Tremor of Forgery is the first novel by Patricia Highsmith that I have ever read. It was this year’s main ‘holiday book’, taken with me to Tunisia for no better reason than it is set in Tunisia. I chose it, in other words, for precisely the same reason that I took Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to Egypt last year.

Setting out on a review here is beset with uncertainty, a little like going on safari without a guide, a map or a compass. I simply have no landmarks, no basis for
People on vacation, or on a working vacation, or on a vacation that turns to work occasionally-- are slightly different than ordinary people. Their connection to the world is shifted, their spending, dining, recreating, interacting habits-- are all slightly different in the vacation or travel mode.

Either their guard is up, or down, or the general components of what comprises their "guard" has shifted a little, subtly changed. The talented Miss Highsmith sympathizes, taking genuine interest and
Oct 26, 2007 rated it really liked it
There has always been traces of Paul Bowles in Highsmith's fiction - and this book is almost a love letter of sorts to Bowles' world. Without moral overtones one falls into the spell of evil or at least except it on a face value. Very disturbing, even creepy like.
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this different from other Highsmith novels in that the characters are all fairly likeable and believable, not as extreme or as paranoid as I've come to expect. What isn't likeable is Howard Ingham's increasingly less than sympathetic view of Arabs. "Ingham imagined that Arabs were more or less always the same from one day to the next, that no external events could much affect them," for example. Highsmith does a good job of showing Ingham's shifting sense of self, of morality, in the ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
In her Introduction (which I read as an Afterword), Francine Prose calls this Highsmith's best. Admittedly this is only my third by Highsmith, so I'm definitely no expert on the subject, but I didn't like this as much as The Talented Mr. Ripley. For me, there was no tension. There is an extraordinary event, for which I assume I am expected to be anxious about consequences. The main character didn't seem to be anxious and so I wasn't either. The main character, Howard Ingham, simply wasn't the ...more
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
Sweaty Tunisia in the blistering sun. PaHi, suspense writer of "sheer dread," keeps you uncomfortable in a labyrinth of amorality, ethics and ambiguous relationships. That said, I don't think you can kill someone by hurling your typewriter at 'em in the dark. The basic flaw here is the oopsy "murder." ~~ Consider the damage an inked eraser might cause if it hit the heart !
COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime
BOOK 37 (of 250)
This is my second reading. In my first review below I state this is the most unusual Highsmith I've read (that remains true) and that I'd have ended the book 20 pages earlier with "Ingham lit a cigaratte" (and there I was wrong, perhaps). And still, there are 3 Highsmith novels I think better. (Right now, that is, as Highsmith novels are just so re-readable).
HOOK - 4 stars: "You're sure there's no letter for me," Ingham asked.
Jimmy R
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I honestly don't think I've read this one before, which surprises me. (May just be my failing memory.) This novel ranks right up there with STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and TALENTED MR RIPLEY. All of Patty's usual motifs, quirks and neuroses are on full display here. Reading Patty can be dangerous.

Patty is a misogynist lesbian, or vice versa. The ultimate misanthrope, she shows contempt for most of humanity, but she has a special animus towards women. Look at the nasty homophobic speech she puts into
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries, 2017-reads
I have purchased waaayyy too many books this year and decided to put myself on a book buying ban. But when I visited one of my favorite bookshops, I decided to ignore the ban and allowed myself to buy just one book. I was on the fence with what I wanted and finally decided to purchase this Highsmith, which on the front says "one of her best" from The New Yorker. No. No it isn't. Apparently the reviewer had never read "This Sweet Sickness" or "The Blunderer" or even Tom Ripley. There was no ...more
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
So, this is how a liberal author would write in a pre-politically correct era: full of ethnic stereotypes, but given with the well-meant curiosity of the Westerner, who is not actually appalled by his/her encounter with a completely different culture, but instead judges everything by western measures. The moral issue of the story was quite inadequate for me, my personal view is that one has to do his/her duty and live by a certain moral code in any culture anywhere in this world. Reason is the ...more
Kristine Brancolini
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Tremor of Forgery defies description. I loved it and I'm at a loss to explain why. Patricia Highsmith must have been an utterly intriguing and mysterious woman. The only other books I have read by here are the first three Ripley books, which I devoured one after another in short succession. This book is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a morality tale. And even though nothing much happens, I can't stop thinking about the protagonist, Howard Ingham. He is the book's narrator and it's ...more
Merl Fluin
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: suspense
A man goes abroad and slowly falls apart. Does he lose himself, find himself, or discover he has no real self at all? Yes, the same old Highsmith theme, but somehow (how? how? how the hell does she do it?) it never gets stale.

I chanced upon this one in a second-hand bookshop and made the mistake of reading the first couple of pages on the bus home. I say mistake because once I'd started it the rest of my life was cancelled until I'd finished. Almost nothing happens for most of the book, and
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing

There is no straightforward incident that sends the narrative into motion. Nor is there a clear path that Howard Ingham, the main character, follows to pick up clues. Much like Highsmith's Ripley tales, this novel finds itself far more concerned with the inner workings of the central character. The reader will take every meal and spend every waking minute with him. The author's knowledge of how to make the reader feel the emotional status of her characters is on display here. The nervousness
Aug 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I hated this title -- it seemed so hokey. Like “The Whip of Larceny” or “The Chains of Shoplifting” or something. But Highsmith nailed so much in this novel. The mood and tone rocked -- I’m so glad I read this in a steamy August in Baltimore -- not quite Tunisia, but I could start to begin to relate. I’m not big into mystery -- if this indeed qualifies -- but she did an excellent job of maintaining tension in a lazy atmosphere redolent of scotch and sweat -- the sun reduces problems to ...more
Filipe Coutinho
Writer arrives in Tunisia. Time passes. Poor judgement in the depiction of Tunisians. Some letters are written. More time passes. Slowly. A conservative character with strong views is introduced. More letters are written. Hurray, somebody gets killed. Oh, but we find out in a letter. More characters who treat Tunisians like animals are introduced. Time passes. It’s hot. There’s an “accident.” Consequences are inexistent. Guess what— letters. It’s really hot and the writer complains. He extends ...more
Daniel Gamboa
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
"The Sea of Doubt" is the title of this book in Italian, which, in my opinion, should've been its original title. Why? Howard is an interesting character in crisis to read about until he starts constantly changing his mind as to whether or not he loves Ina. Besides, after chapter 20, I started to feel a bit bored, like Jensen, everytime Abdullah's murder came up. I understand that Abdullah's murder is "the excuse" to address the moral issues in the book, but since such murder was more like an ...more
Mark Joyce
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a broad consensus even among those who knew and admired Patricia Highsmith that she could be a nasty piece of work. Be that as it may, I've got a lot of time for anybody who was prepared to lean into a candle flame and deliberately set their hair alight in order to liven up a tedious dinner party, which is apparently one of the many stunts she pulled during a long career of social misbehaviour. Her writing also suggests that there was a lot more going on beneath the self-styled ...more
Less a novel and more an academic exercise, the subjects Highsmith is writing about—racism, stand your ground, propaganda, Israel—are eerily relevant forty-six years later.* There's suspense in the sense that you don't know what's going to happen next, but it's not exactly suspense because you don't necessarily care.

Pretty sure I started this at least once previously because during the first half I had an odd sense of déjà vu.

*Can you not make an m-dash on this thing?
Barbara Nutting
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Like an Aesop fable there was a moral to this story, I’m just not sure what it was??

The main character, Howard Ingham, was a real weirdo. He and his friends (?) drank enough Scotch to flood the Mediterranean. The dog was the only likable one.

Many references to the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis, this book was written 50 years ago but nothing seems to ever improve in the Middle East. Liked learning more about Tunisia, otherwise it was a slow moving tale of despondency and indecision. I
On the cover of this is a quote purported to be from writer Graham Greene: "Highsmith's finest novel" & I'm inclined to agree. As w/ "Found in the Street" [see my review of that here:], the deaths aren't central mysteries to be solved, they're psychological mood setters. &, again as in "Found..", descriptions of personalities & the basic attitudes toward life that they represent are really the central concern.

Highsmith's sympathetic depiction
Jan 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 01, 2009 rated it liked it
The Stranger, The Cure, and Tremor of a Forgery: it’s an existential trifecta. In life, sings The Cure, “I can turn and walk away / Or I can fire the gun / Staring at the sky staring at the sun / Whichever I choose / It amounts to the same: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.”

So discovers Howard Ingham, just like Meursault before him. But unlike Meursault, Howard Ingham's moral Arab-killing dilemma in the North African desert is plagued by a hyper awareness that his values --thus, himself?-- are different when
Bruce Beckham
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
The typical Highsmith tale takes place within a set that is largely shrouded in shadows. This technique is not without purpose, for it casts into sharper focus the actors centre stage. And it reflects the skill of the author that she requires so few props to hold the attention of the audience.

I was struck, therefore, by the contrast in this novel – a story placed in 1970s Tunisia – for the limelight is more equally shared around. It is much more of a travelogue. However, that the surroundings
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is Highsmith at her amoral best.

While your spine crawls with inexplicable dread, you find yourself becoming complicit with the crimes in the book.

very disturbing read. very claustrophobic.
Nov 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z3-2019-read-in
This book is available free from Amazon's Prime Library program, which is where I found it.
It is my first book by this author and, if her other mysteries are like this one, probably my last.
The book is set in Tunisia but focused almost entirely on its expats.
2.5 stars and I'm wavering between rounding down or rounding up.
Flannery Francis
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Although it was written in 1969, this book is relevant for 2018. Against the arid backdrop of Tunisia, The Tremor of Forgery addresses Middle East conflict, American involvement in controversial wars, and judgmental morality. This book was delicious.
Marcia Brineman
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written

This was my first Patricia Highsmith and I very much enjoyed it. Even though most of the story was mundane life, she had a way of writing that kept me interested. I was an expat for 8 years, so I could relate to that aspect. Having been to several Muslim countries, she did a great job in her descriptions.
Melissa King
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What is a mystery? It is not, in the real sense, a murder story. You know the drill by now: a body is discovered; a detective detects; the darker alleyways of the psyche are explored, torch in hand; punishment is meted out. As predictable in mechanics and outcome as a prayer wheel; spun by different hands at various speeds, but always on the same axle.

Until Patsy happened across it. Made of sterner stuff she took a drag on her cigarette, grasped the flimsy disc between finger and thumb and tore
Apr 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Bracingly racist but entertaining.
1.5, rounded up simply for finishing it.

Tedious and uncomfortably racist BUT good on the 1960s expat beach resort scene of Tunisia.

That's all I'm gonna say, but for this little excerpt that I highlighted, to remind me of why I disliked it:

Jensen showed Ingham his latest painting, a canvas four feet high, tacked on to pieces of wood Jensen had probably found. The picture shocked Ingham. Maybe it was shockingly good, Ingham thought. It was of a disembowelled Arab, split like a steer in a butcher’s
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Patricia Highsmith was an American novelist who is known mainly for her psychological crime thrillers which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations over the years.

She lived with her grandmother, mother and later step-father (her mother divorced her natural father six months before 'Patsy' was born and married Stanley Highsmith) in Fort Worth before moving with her parents to New York in
“Who am I, anyway? Does one exist, or to what extent does one exist as an individual without friends, family, anybody to whom one can relate, to whom one’s existence is of the least importance?” 7 likes
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