Top Mysteries challenge review: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Year of publication: 1950
Genre: Psychological thriller
Setting & time: USA, contemporary

Guy Haines, a young architect, meets loafer Charles Bruno on a train. Guy wants to divorce his estranged wife so he can marry his new girlfriend, and Bruno wants his father dead. Bruno suggests an exchange of murders and Guy refuses. But soon afterwards Guy’s wife is murdered, and he gets sucked into a sick and terrifying relationship with Bruno, who wants him to honour the deal he thinks they made.

This is a good psychological thriller and an examination of what can make an honest and upright person commit a terrible crime. It is also an examination of the feelings that might arise in said person afterwards, and it might also be seen as an examination of the differences between the lazy, degenerate rich and the honest, hard-working middle-class.

The story is well plotted and the narrative moves slowly but surely towards an inevitable end, with some interesting twists along the way. The only problem I have with it is the characters, or rather the character of Guy. He and Bruno are clearly supposed to be opposites, their reactions to the same kinds of situations always being different – e.g. Bruno is calm in situations where Guy is a bundle of nerves, and vice versa, Guy is sane and Bruno is not, etc. But the problem is that while Bruno is capable of arousing feelings of extreme revulsion in the reader, Guy isn’t sympathetic enough to make one feel anything but slightly sorry for him. Mostly he just made me angry because he was so stupid, which I am sure is not the feeling Highsmith was trying to arouse.

Rating: A good psychological thriller with a murderous plot. 3 stars.

Books left in challenge: 114 (if this looks wrong – I got a bit confused when I started and counted Len Deighton’s Game, Set & Match trilogy as one book. I’m now counting the books separately).

Note: There is a Hitchcock movie based on the book (with a script written by Raymond Chandler), but apparently it changes the plot quite a lot. I’m going to watch it anyway – provided I can find it to rent.


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