Highsmith's five Ripley novels* are, for the most part, brilliant exercises in black, claustrophobic drama that manage to have you barracking for a psychopathic aesthete as he murders his way to a better life, and murders his way out of trouble. In the UK and Commonwealth, the first four are published by Vintage, while the fifth and final book is from Bloomsbury. This means that a nicely matching set ought to be impossible.
However, when Bloomsbury rereleased their Highsmith books at the turn of the millennium, designer Nathan Burton seems to have gone out of his way to create a design that, though not infringing on the copyright of, or exactly mimicking, the Vintage designs (by Julian Humphries), matches them as well as you could hope.
And then the Bloomsbury Highsmiths got a redesign--again by Nathan Burton, using his appealing illustrations and a rough hand-drawn type for the author name.
This ought to throw things out with the Vintage covers--except that Vintage has reciprocated by redesigning their own Highsmiths along similar lines.
I'm not sure if there's been any deliberate communication between the two publishers on these designs, but it's a good thing.
Speaking of Ripley, Norton in the US has recently released this gorgeous boxed set of the books. The box and books are designed by Chin-Yee Li--the photos of the individual books are taken from the excellent Book Covers Anonymous blog.
And then there are the beautiful new Norton paperbacks of the Ripley books, designed by Rodrigo Corral, Christopher Brand and Jason Ramirez.
So it's a good time to be buying Ripley.
Highsmith, by the way, is the only serious writer I can think of who had the dubious honour of getting a nude photo of herself put on the cover of her biography (and not by her choice, given that she was dead several years before it was published): the spine of the UK edition of Andrew Wilson's Beautiful Shadow features this unexpected image.
* A question: does anyone have an explanation for this odd aspect of the Ripley books? Each book is set at about the time it was published, so the first book is very obviously taking place in the 1950s, while Space Invaders machines and other such aspects of more modern life appear in the last couple of books. And yet, by internal chronology, only a few years have passed. Highsmith is too smart and careful a writer to have not done this on purpose, and yet it's quite discombobulating.