Patricia Highsmith #3 for me and my favourite to date – so good, in fact, that I have now decided to read her entire oeuvre!  All 22 novels and a goodly number of short story collections.  That should keep me occupied for a while.

Robert Forester is suffering from a mild depression.  Recently divorced, he has moved from the big apple to a small town.  Then he spots Jenny, a girl in her early twenties, living a life of cozy domestic bliss.  He begins to watch her.  There are no sinister motives – watching her cook dinner in the kitchen soothes him.  Until one night he is spotted …

Perversely a friendship of sorts develops between them and that unleases a series of events which Robert is unable to control.  People die.  Robert is implicated but unable to prove his innocence.  He has enemies.  Slowly but surely the townspeople, his friends and colleagues, turn against him – guilty until proven innocent is the motto.  Will he even survive before the issue is resolved one way or the other?

The twists and turns are completely unpredictable.  Yet, looking back I find there is a marvellous symmetry in the structure.  Robert, the prowler, becomes the stalked.  Jenny, the domestic goddess, proves to be more mentally unhinged than Robert.  And the (ex-) partners of both outdo each other in their psychotic behaviours.

Plenty of madness between these pages and a tension that escalates beyond the finale.  This novel may have a cozy start but there’s certainly no neatly tied ending. The hint is in the title – symbolically speaking the owl is a omen of bad fortune, a bearer of death and destruction.

I’m tempted to award this my first 5-stars of 2008 because I enjoyed it so much.   But there are a couple of implausibilities in it – the major one being an incredibly stupid police force.  And I’ve still to acquaint myself with Ripley – I’m waiting until I forget the films before I read those. Surely I’ll need the 5-star moniker for them.  On that basis this screeching bird receives