Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series, or as it is referred to, the Ripliad, is the story of Tom Ripley, our main character, with some sociopathic tendencies, who goes around killing people.
The series consists of five novels, featuring the character of Tom Ripley.
The order of the books is as follows (by publication date):
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Ripley Under Ground
The boy Who Followed Ripley
Ripley Under Water
If you are not familiar with Highsmith's characters and overall style you might be in for a surprise, or a real treat, depends on how sensible you are regarding the topic of murder.
The main characters in Highsmith's novels are usually murderers and you follow them not the brilliant detective how catches the villain in the end.
Think of it more as Dexter than Hercule Poirot.
Because the books were written between 1955 and 1991, the events and the tone of the books reflect this very much. If you feel nostalgic for the time when you didn't have instant acces to anyone via their twitter feed, Facebook status or cell phone, this is really great for that.
This also means that unlike the openly hostile, cynical and loud and proud of it anti-establishment/authority characters like Dexter or dr. House, Ripley is a murderer yes, but he is also a con artist and he wants to fit in as best as possible, especially because this would guarantee that he not be caught for the multiple murders he commits during the series.
In the first novel, that was made into a movie a few times, the latest being the 2005 adaptation with Matt Damon as Ripley, we get introduced to Tom and follow him to the adventure and chance of his lifetime: a trip to Italy to try and convince the son of a wealthy American businessman to return home.
Tom ends up killing said heir and being the brilliant conman that he is, even replaces him for a few months. By the end of the book he gets away with the murder (as most of Highsmith's main characters) and even manages to assure himself a nice little fortune from his victim's family.
Now that all may sound terrible (and it would be), but it's all told in such a way that you end up rooting for Tom and hoping he gets away with it.
(End of spoiler)
One of the most emphasized traits of Ripley is that he's a sociopath and that he has no conscience. In later books this turns out to be partially false.
Ripley is not an unfeeling, emotionless, psychopath, but he does think clearly about his actions and the consequences thereof and acts accordingly.
To me this is what makes him a fascinating character. He thinks it through and decides that the best course of action that he could take is to kill X or Y. And in the following books some of these decisions come back to haunt him. He then again makes his decision based on what has happened and what could happen if he takes certain steps and not others.
The only case he feels remorse about is his first murder, the rest not so much, in some cases he even thinks of them with a certain kind of pride, but he never thinks about how he will be punished by some sort of divine power for having murdered several people.
Mentions of god and beliefs are only in The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and even then a very casual mention, normal for everyday conversation.
The focus of the books is on Ripley and how he gets out of trouble every time using his whits and ability to disguise himself and play the role of other people.
All in all I recommend it, but not the 2005 movie adaptation.
I recently re-watched the movie, after reading all of the Ripliad, and some things about the Ripley character in the movie, are so far from the Ripley in the books that it make him an entirely different character. So if you watch it expect it to be something completely different.
On the other hand Matt Damon is, psychically the perfect Ripley in my opinion. I always pictured him like. There is another adaptation with John Malkovich as Ripley out there, which I haven't seen, but to me Ripley will always be Matt Damon.
The series has some homoerotic undertones (especially in The Boy Who Followed Ripley) but not as much as in the 2005 movie adaptation, but as far as I can tell Ripley is not really gay or even bisexual (there is one remark in the first book and a few scenes that hint to this), for the most part he is married, happily, though not too passionately with Heloise and in The Boy Who Followed Ripley he expresses the most affection yet towards her.
The author herself has said that he is not gay, but if you don't mind, or are looking for a good book which has subtle undertones of this kind or is not averse to such topics then this is also recommended.
Overall in my opinion the weakest book in the series is The Boy who followed Ripley, the best are The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ripley Under Water, and the rest are around 4 out of 5.