Late last December, I decided to go ahead and do the “12 Challenge” that was going around Twitter: 12 months to read 12 books recommended by 12 friends. I specifically requested true crime and thrillers, looking for good books I haven’t read yet. Book one was Dark River: The Bloody Reign Of The Ohio River Pirates, and book two was State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny.
Book three is Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews.
This one came as a recommendation from Alicia Thompson when she was doing her roundup of books she’d read in 2021. I honestly don’t remember what all she said about it because I read “This is The Talented Mr. Ripley meets …” and I was ready to buy it. I absolutely love The Talented Mr. Ripley, so if you happen to know of any more books that remind you of it, tell me about them!
Who is Maud Dixon? started out rather slowly for me. We’re following Florence Darrow, who’s in New York trying to get her career in publishing off the ground, but she’s struggling in a lot of ways. Florence doesn’t always make the best choices, for example, and it takes her a while to actually meet “Maud Dixon” and get the main part of the story underway.
The deal is that Maud Dixon is the penname of an author who wrote an amazing, bestselling debut … but is now struggling with Second Book Syndrome. She hires Florence as her assistant, which means Florence gets to actually meet her and learn her true identity. (Earlier in the book some of Florence’s coworkers insist that Maud Dixon is actually a man.) This also means Florence can’t tell anyone where she’s actually living (with Maud Dixon) or what she’s doing (working for Maud Dixon) but it’s also an experience Florence can’t pass up, especially since she needs the work.
You might say the job is too good to be true.
Once we meet Maud Dixon and her eccentricates start clashing with Florence’s the true fun begins. Fans of Tom Ripley will be totally primed for some – but not all – of what happens next. (Is it a spoiler if I talk about what happens in The Talented Mr. Ripley? The book came out in 1955 and the movie’s from 1999. Do we all know that Tom does by now? Yes? No?)
My husband can tell you I’ve wondered if you could pull off a Talented Mr. Ripley in the 21st century, and that’s what Florence attempts here. There was one point, maybe halfway through the book (I read it all in one day) where I put it down and told my husband how I really, really hoped things were going to play out before picking it back up and seeing if I was right. (I was! And this was an instance where it wasn’t super obvious, but a pleasure to see how Andrews laid it all out and let it all unfold.) So even if you know and love The Talented Mr. Ripley, it’s not a simple rehash of the story, updated for better passports and all the forensic advances of the past 60-odd years.
Once things get rolling, they go downhill – both as in “Florence finds herself in a lot of trouble” and “things keep going faster and faster.” Sometimes you want to shake Florence (and maybe ask her if she’s never read a thriller in her life), and other times you’re rooting for her. Does it have a happy ending? I think that depends on how you feel about Florence and the others by the end of the book. Which might actually just be my way of saying “You know, I’m not really sure.”
If Tom Ripley is your jam, then this book is for you.
And if Tom Ripley is your jam, I could use some more recommendations! Comment with more books fans of the talented Mr. Ripley should be picking up.