Patricia Highsmith did not have an ideal start in life. Her parents were young artists adrift in New York and they reckoned a child would be an encumbrance. So her mother drank turpentine to procure an abortion. But Highsmith was always obstinately intent on thwarting other people’s plans, and she duly entered the world on January 19, 1921.

Understandably she grew to hate the woman who had tried to terminate her existence, and her mother made things worse by asking her, as a teenager: “Are you a les? You are beginning to make noises like one.”

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