The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder, by Patricia Highsmith. New York: Penzler Books. 230 pp. $16.95. PATRICIA HIGHSMITH is best known for ``Strangers on a Train,'' a brilliantly twisting tale brought to the screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. Viewers will remember the film as full of confusion, crossed purposes, sudden confrontations - all plotted with the sneaky neatness that marks a superior suspense writer. The short stories in this collection create the same well-made chaos. If you are (a)an animal lover and (b)a mystery lover - with (c)just a touch of the misanthrope - you will find ``The Animal-Lover's Book of Beastly Murder'' original and exotic entertainment.
A thread runs throughout these stories. Tyrannical human beings abuse mild-mannered creatures until our animal heroes are pushed to the limits of their patience - and beyond. Take, for instance, the sadistic zoo keeper in ``Chorus Girl's Absolutely Final Performance.'' This human brute enjoys beating his gentle elephant, Chorus Girl, as well as taunting her, until the poor pachyderm is forced to put her foot down ... literally.
Another ``beast'' who decides he can't put up with unjust treatment any longer is Ming, a pampered, elegant, and defiantly loyal feline. His mistress is involved with a devious and greedy playboy. Ming tries fastidiously to avoid the man, but their paths cross daily. Neither party is pleased with the situation.
The mistress, a lost innocent in Highsmith's jungle, is caught in the middle, oblivious to the antagonism between the other two. Finally, after having to defend his life from the boyfriend, Ming takes the upper hand, or paw, and pushes the culprit out of his world permanently, remaining, as he should, the only pet for his mistress.
Despite all the mayhem, there is a good amount of humor in the book, especially in ``Notes from a Respectable Cockroach,'' a protagonist who must suffer with potato chip crumbs when he deserves caviar. After struggling in the halls of a deteriorating hotel for years, he finally hits the big time and gets everything he ever wanted.
It must be noted that not all humans in Highsmith's world are wicked - she would refuse to be so predictable. Is there even a moral to these tales as beastly people are called to account for what they do to charming beasts?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it certainly stimulates the imagination to view justice from the other side, as seen by Patricia Highsmith's supreme court of creatures.