The world of Patricia Highsmith has always been filled with ordinary people, all of whom are capable of very ordinary crimes. This theme was present from the beginning, when her debut novel, Strangers on a Train, galvanized the reading public. Here we encounter Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, passengers on the same train. But while Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. “Some people are better off dead,” Bruno remarks, “like your wife and my father, for instance.” As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith’s perilous world, where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.
The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1951 film, Strangers on a Train launched Highsmith on a prolific career of noir fiction, proving her a master at depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.
Patricia Highsmith was an American novelist who is known mainly for her psychological crime thrillers which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations over the years.
She lived with her grandmother, mother and later step-father (her mother divorced her natural father six months before 'Patsy' was born and married Stanley Highsmith) in Fort Worth before moving with her parents to New York in 1927 but returned to live with her grandmother for a year in 1933. Returning to her parents in New York, she attended public schools in New York City and later graduated from Barnard College in 1942.
Shortly after graduation her short story 'The Heroine' was published in the Harper's Bazaar magazine and it was selected as one of the 22 best stories that appeared in American magazines in 1945 and it won the O Henry award for short stories in 1946. She continued to write short stories, many of them comic book stories, and regularly earned herself a weekly $55 pay-check. During this period of her life she lived variously in New York and Mexico.
Her first suspense novel 'Strangers on a Train' published in 1950 was an immediate success with public and critics alike. The novel has been adapted for the screen three times, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.
In 1955 her anti-hero Tom Ripley appeared in the splendid 'The Talented Mr Ripley', a book that was awarded the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere as the best foreign mystery novel translated into French in 1957. This book, too, has been the subject of a number of film versions. Ripley appeared again in 'Ripley Under Ground' in 1970, in 'Ripley's Game' in 1974, 'The boy who Followed Ripley' in 1980 and in 'Ripley Under Water' in 1991.
Along with her acclaimed series about Ripley, she wrote 22 novels and eight short story collections plus many other short stories, often macabre, satirical or tinged with black humour. She also wrote one novel, non-mystery, under the name Claire Morgan, plus a work of non-fiction 'Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction' and a co-written book of children's verse, 'Miranda the Panda Is on the Veranda'.
She latterly lived in England and France and was more popular in England than in her native United States. Her novel 'Deep Water', 1957, was called by the Sunday Times one of the "most brilliant analyses of psychosis in America" and Julian Symons once wrote of her "Miss Highsmith is the writer who fuses character and plot most successfully ... the most important crime novelist at present in practice." In addition, Michael Dirda observed "Europeans honoured her as a psychological novelist, part of an existentialist tradition represented by her own favorite writers, in particular Dostoevsky, Conrad, Kafka, Gide, and Camus."
She died of leukemia in Locarno, Switzerland on 4 February 1995 and her last novel, 'Small g: a Summer Idyll', was published posthumously a month later.
After Eight Perfect Murders and rewatching Hitchcock’s classic and my favorite comedy version of Throw Momma from train ( Devito was so brilliant, if you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it) I decided to read the original story that inspired those brilliant movies.
Overall: the thrilling idea about each person’s capability to take a life when the evil side sits on the driver seat and take you to the darkest highways is brilliant but I found the changes at the scripts were necessary and great touches to improve characterization.
And book’s long, philosophical passages about the murderous and wild nature of human being lessened the high tension and slowed the pace. Some chapters or long descriptions could be omitted. But it is still great achievement that a classic thriller story gave so many creative ideas to the filmmakers and in the middle of Pandemic, I still read and discuss its development.
Let’s give four stars and reread Rebecca ( I dedicated my two weeks to rewatch Hitchcock movies and the books he inspired to create his masterpieces!)
When Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train, they discover they have one thing in common: each of them has someone they would be better off without. When Haines' estranged wife winds up strangled, he finds himself caught in Bruno's psychotic, alcoholic web...
Yeah, that makes the book sound really gripping. It wasn't. The Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train is legendary so I thought I'd give the book that inspired it a shot. I would have been better off watching Throw Mama From the Train again.
The setup is classic noir: two men, two murders, no complications. The problem is that neither man is all that interesting. Guy Haines is too by the book and Bruno is an alcoholic mama's boy, more sad that anything else.
It may have been a case of wrong book, wrong time, but the engine just didn't turn over for me with this one. I was pretty bored for the first half. After that, I was just ready for it to be over. The first murder was boring, the second was kind of illogical considering how flimsy things were, and the rest was just running out the clock.
I will say that Patricia Highsmith, like Jim Thompson, writes a very believable alcoholic psychopath. From her Wikipedia entry, I'd say a lot of it came from experience.
I'm going to paraphrase Roger Ebert (I think) here: Strangers on a Train is a gripping short story squeezed into 280 pages. Two out of five stars.
“He didn’t look like a murderer, he supposed, in his clean white shirtsleeves and his silk tie and his dark blue trousers, and maybe even his strained face didn’t look like a murderer’s to anyone else. ‘That’s the mistake,’ Guy said aloud, ‘that nobody knows what a murderer looks like. A murderer looks like anybody!’” - Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train
Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train is a novel that almost needs no introduction. It is the very definition of high concept, an irresistible idea that can be summed up in a handful of sentences. Two strangers – architect Guy Haines and louche playboy Charles Bruno – engage in a conversation while traveling aboard a train. Both men have troublesome people in their lives, a soon-to-be ex-wife for Guy, and an unloving father for Bruno. The notion arises that they could swap murders, ridding themselves of these nagging issues, while elegantly dealing with the problems of motive and alibi. The train eventually reaches its destination, the two men part, and that should be the end of it.
Until one of the men goes through with the plan.
The first book written by the famed author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train gained immortality when Alfred Hitchcock turned it into a semi-classic film. Its setup has found its way into the pop cultural consciousness, the basis of many other additional movies, television episodes, and parodies.
In short, Strangers on a Train has transcended itself, becoming far more than it ever was to begin. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this resulted in a reading experience that often left me wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s a fine diversion and a quick read, but it would have been quite forgettable, if other factors had not already made forgetting it impossible.
Plotwise, Strangers on a Train is relatively straightforward. There is a minimum of surprises or twists, and once you swallow the central conceit – that two guys who’d never met each other would have this conversation, and that one of them would put the plan into motion – things progress in ways that are not hard to guess.
Rather than focus on storytelling mechanics, Highsmith is more interested in her two main characters, Guy and Bruno. And that’s a bit of a problem.
Neither man is really worth rooting for. Guy is put in the unenviable position of being the moral center, except that he’s not really good, just indecisive. There are a half-dozen points in the novel when he could have solved every problem by simply doing the halfway decent thing, but his lack of a backbone prevents this. Meanwhile, Bruno is a proto-Tom Ripley, a psychopath with an ingratiating smile. Unlike Ripley, however, Bruno has zero charisma. Instead, he’s a fall-down alcoholic with an inexplicable obsession for Guy, and Guy’s girlfriend Anne.
For much of Strangers on a Train’s length, I felt trapped in this story, pinging back and forth between Guy and Bruno – Highsmith writes in the third-person, mainly from the perspective of these two – neither of whom seemed worth a moment of my time.
Ultimately, I came to accept that this wasn’t really a character study, so much as a thesis statement. Highsmith is clearly a believer that there is a demon in all of us, and realizing that, I saw the two leads – and Guy, especially – in a different light. Rather than viewing Guy as a decent fellow trapped in extreme circumstance, I accepted him as a man slowly coming to realize his latent homicidal tendencies. Though Highsmith undercuts her own savage, cutthroat world with a tediously expository ending, I appreciated her willingness to execute such a bleak outlook.
Because this is a Highsmith novel, the sexuality of her characters has become a matter of some controversy. Specifically, it has been assumed that Bruno’s intense fixation with Guy is homosexual in nature. Highsmith – herself a lesbian – goes out of her way to tell us that Bruno is interested in women (there is a scene with Bruno trying to find a prostitute), but she leaves enough bread crumbs to form a trail to other conclusions.
This is important because it affects our ability to judge Strangers on a Train in the 21st century. At the time this was written – in 1950 – homosexuality was criminalized, stigmatized, and often diagnosed as a mental illness. There were many unfortunate examples of a fictional character’s sexual identity being used as a proxy for their villainy and evil. The matter was to arise again with The Talented Mr. Ripley, with Tom Ripley’s ambiguous desires called into question.
Frankly, I’m not sure that Bruno deserves the excavation. He is meant by Highsmith to be mesmerizing – at least, Guy and Anne are both oddly taken with him – but I found him to be an exasperating presence, a sloppy, erratic, vaguely-intentioned leech. Trying to pin his actions on any one thing, much less his sexual inclinations, seems a fool’s errand. The force that is driving him is not important, least of all to Highsmith, who is clearly more interested in Guy’s descent to the dark side. Bruno exists mainly to provide the wind that propels Guy’s voyage of lethal self-discovery.
Reading a book that has achieved cultural saturation is always at least a bit unusual. Even though you haven’t seen the exact arrangement of words, you have the sensation of having been there before. This can make it hard to accurately evaluate a piece of art, since what comes across as cliched or obvious now, might have been entirely original and sui generis seventy years ago.
With that caveat aside, this was a minor disappointment, given its lofty reputation. The ideas are still half-formed, the characters are a bit uncertain, and Highsmith definitely pulls her punches at the end, writing as though she was operating under the old Hays Code, in which the “bad guy” has to meet justice.
To be very clear: this is not a bad book. It is a solid psychological thriller boosted by the reality that Highsmith was a pioneer in this genre. Nevertheless, my greatest enjoyment came from seeing – for the first time – all the ingredients that Highsmith would later put to much better use in The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is a novel full of authorial promise that would only later be fulfilled.
When I was in my 20s- living in Toronto and traveling on the train to visit my parents 4 hours away- I always thought there was nothing worse than trying to read my book while having some annoying fellow passenger try to start a conversation...but then I watched Alfred Hitchcock's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and realized- Nope it could have been worse.
I usually have a hard time reading the book once I have watched the movie, but Patricia Highsmith's novel is very different than Hitchcock's adaptation of it. It is much darker and much more sinister...
Guy Haines life is just about perfect- he is about to get his big break as an architect, and he is in love with and wants to marry Anne- his girlfriend of two years. There is just one small problem. His wife Miriam is making life difficult for him, so Guy is on his way to his hometown of Metcalf to meet with her, and get the divorce finalized.
While on the train Guy meets Charles Anthony Bruno- a shiftless young man who hates his rich father- Samuel Bruno...but loves spending Samuel's money. As the hours pass and the alcohol flows, the idle chatter between the two men takes a dark turn when Bruno turns the talk to murder. The perfect murder. His idea- I kill your wife, you kill my father...
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a psychological thriller that stays with you. One that will make you think twice about striking up a conversation with a seemingly innocent stranger. Do yourself a favor and keep your nose in a book.
*Note -Not to be confused with Throw Momma from the Train.
Why don't people write thrillers like Patricia Highsmith anymore? This, her first novel, boasts an iconic plot, gruelling tension, characters with psychological complexities, and plenty of intellect to balance out murderous actions. Plus, a psychopath. She's so good at the psychopaths.
I'm not surprised Alfred Hitchcock found this book worthy inspiration for his 1951 film. It's clever. Two men meet on a train journey. Guy, our 'hero', on his way to secure a divorce, makes the fatal error of sharing personal information with Bruno. He tells him he hates his wife. He gives names and details. Bruno shares that he wishes his father were dead, and suggests a plan for the "perfect murder": Bruno kills the wife, Guy kills the father, and >pouf< all their problems disappear. No one would be the wiser because the men are strangers and can't be connected.
Guy being normal, is repelled by Bruno and his switcheroo idea, and removes himself. The train journey ends. That's the last he'll see of that weirdo... right? Well, of course not, that would be boring. Murder is committed. Bruno is a nasty smell that just won't go away.
Highsmith's novel is haunted by concepts made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde. The idea of opposites, good and evil, as naturally coexisting forces, is exemplified in the characters of Guy and Bruno, but also within Guy himself. How much threat is necessary to cause a basically 'good' person to commit murder? And, for that matter, is anyone 'basically good'?
Highsmith's clear prose paints a stylish picture of the time: train travel, omnipresent alcohol, glamorous women. There are also glimmers of homoeroticism, compulsion, wealth, and an innocent female love interest, which all feature in her later novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. I found the ending, while not predictable and dappled with clever and logical twists, lost some of the power built in the first two thirds of the book. But I still enjoyed this classic thriller that gives new meaning to the old adage "don't talk to strangers". Just don't!
He felt rather like two people, one of whom could create and feel in harmony with God when he created, and the other who could murder.
In order to prove that NO, I DON’T ONLY READ PORNOS THANK YOU VERY LITTLE I begged Steve to pull me out of my downward spiral and buddy read this one with me. When my husband asked his nightly question “what are you reading????” I was so very proud to say a classic rather than smut. I also jumped at the chance to say it was a book written by the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and that this novel became one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It was at this point my husband pointed out that in the course of our 20 year marriage there has been an annual Alfred Hitchcock movie marathon on Turner Classic Movies and that he was pretty sure the winner of first place in my heart was . . . .
He also pointed out during said movie marathons that no interaction with me was permitted during . . . .
And . . . .
And . . . .
And . . . .
And . . .
Either. So basically me saying “a favorite Hitchcockian masterpiece” pretty much amounted to diddly shit.
It was at this point I reminded him exactly what this story was about . . . .
Guy Haines meets Charlie Bruno on a train and shares a meal with him in order to pass the time. I know what you’re thinking - WHY THE EFF WOULD ANYONE DO THIS WHEN THEY COULD JUST READ A BOOK?!?!?!? Who knows? It was a different time when men wore hats and ladies had to worry about stuff like whether the seam on their stockings was straight. Basically, people were cray. Anywho, over the course of this dinner between strangers (*shudder*) Guy shares that he’s an architect sitting on the cusp of making it big, has a real beaut of a gal he’s planning on marrying and that the reason he’s on the trip is to finalize a divorce agreement with his first wife. Bruno’s story is pretty much that he’s a drunk with an Oedipus complex who would like someone to off his dear ol’ dad. Which leads us to the offer of a murder swap and Bruno mistaking a clearly stated no for YAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS leading to turnabout being fair play and Guy getting blackmailed into fulfilling his half of the bargain as well.
Sounds like a real winner, don’t it??? Yeah. It definitely could have been if it were about 100 pages lighter. There just wasn’t much to this one aside from the stabby stabby (or in this case the strangley shooty). The majority of the book was just “meh” page filler with little character development aside from each respectively losing their marbles.
The Hitchcock film, on the other hand? Magnificent. Please remember, however, that this is the man who could sniff out something so brilliant in an itsy-bitsy little 14-pager.
“My mistake was telling a stranger my private business.” — Guy Haines
This is my first Highsmith book, which is a shame because I have seen most movie adaptations of her novels. Throw Mama from the Train is one of my all-time favorite movies, and now I’ve finally read the book that the movie is loosely based on.
The book itself is far from comedic. Written in 1950, this gritty noir novel is mostly set in New York. Guy Haines, an up and coming architect, meets Charlie Bruno on a train bound for his Texas hometown, where he is due to meet up with his estranged wife. Though he doesn’t exchange too much personal information, Bruno has an uncanny perception of Guy’s mind and the real nature of his relationship with Miriam, his wife. He quickly offers up a foul-proof solution to getting rid of the “Miriam problem” in exchange for a small favor.
Even though the plot was predictable, I did find the psychological and philosophical themes on duality pretty interesting. Do each of us have a twin that is both our exact opposite and enemy? Another person that is the embodiment of evil? Are all of us capable of murder given the right circumstances? While I did enjoy the novel, I felt that Highsmith worked too hard to convey that message, and that it could have been a hundred pages shorter.
Patricia Highsmith es considerada la maestra del suspense. Y no es para menos la verdad, lo tiene merecidísimo ya que logra (siendo este su primer libro publicado), una atmósfera tremendamente opresiva e inquietante en la medida en que te vas sumergiendo en la mente de los dos protagonistas de esta obra literaria. Sin embargo, yo creo que también hay que darle el lujo de saber escribir personajes y nutrirlos de matices acorde a las conversaciones, lo que dejan entrever la cosmovisión de cada uno de ellos y las acciones que toman a lo largo de la trama. Sabe construir perfectamente la psicología de cada uno de ellos, volviéndolos grises; donde ninguno es totalmente bueno, pero tampoco malo del todo.
Me ha gustado mucho ver cómo dos extraños pasan justamente de ser eso, a estar conectados por un crimen que solo los llevará por una espiral de desconfianza, resentimiento y miedo ante lo que puede suceder desde aquel punto sin retorno. Pero también es interesante esa simbiosis en la que el uno no deja de necesitar al otro para poder seguir viviendo luego de ese macabro evento. Los perosonajes están plagados de defectos, de actitudes pesimistas, culpables, llenos de mentiras y pensamientos suicidas y/o homicidas; hay una crueldad a la hora de narrar algo tan macabro como un asesinato desde la perspectiva de un psicópata que no se siente para nada morboso. Es casi tenue, como si cuidara los detalles para no ser tan escabrosa; tirando a lo sutil sin regodearse ni mostrar más de la cuenta.
Sin embargo, creo que es un libro aburrido a ratos (así lo sentí yo), hay ciertas relaciones que me daban igual y si me pongo a reflexionar es que justamente lo que más brilla dentro de esta novela es la turbulenta conexión que se da entre los personajes principales luego del vínculo que los une. Cada pequeño encuentro, acercamiento o acecho del uno hacia el otro era lo que me mantenía en vilo y aunque la vida de cada uno de ellos por separado nutre de matices sus acciones, era eso lo que perfectamente me incitaba a no seguir leyendo. Y sí, el libro me ha dejado un poco plof, luego de haber leído dos colecciones de relatos de Patricia que me encantaron, ciertamente esperaba más. Aunque, tengo que darle el beneficio de la duda al ser su primera novela. Voy a leer otros libros de ella y espero que me convenza más de lo que ya lo hizo con sus cuentos.
Architect Guy Haines is on a train to Texas to see his estranged wife Miriam to discuss their divorce. Before long Charles Bruno, a rich n'er do well, sits down opposite him. Haines talks about his problems with Miriam and Bruno talks about his hatred for his father.
Before long Bruno makes a suggestion: the two men should "exchange murders." That is, Bruno should kill Miriam and Haines should kill Bruno's dad - and having no demonstrable motive - neither man will be suspected.
Haines strongly opposes this scheme, refuses to participate, and goes on his way. Before long, however, Bruno tracks Miriam down and murders her.
He then proceeds to stalk Haines and insert himself into Haine's life at every opportunity - pressuring him to carry out his part of the plan. To say any more would be a spoiler.
The book is a well-crafted psychological thriller with believable well-rounded characters. I wanted to jump into the book and shout at Haines to "get that nutcase out of your life" but of course that would have spoiled the plot. I enjoyed the book. And Alfred Hitchcock made it into an excellent film as well.
“People, feelings, everything! Double! Two people in each person. There's also a person exactly the opposite of you, like the unseen part of you, somewhere in the world, and he waits in ambush.” ― Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train
I put off watching the great Hitchcock's take on this Highsmith classic until I actually read it. The book has a neat narrative symmetry and logic to it. It contains a lot of the early hints of some of her later, great Ripley novels: obsessiveness, insanity, meticulous crimes, impulsiveness, boats, doppelgängers, homoeroticism, art, food, etc.
I didn't enjoy it as much as the Ripley novels, but even without knowing the great body of work to follow this one book, 'Strangers on a Train' contains enough to convince even the most hardened skeptic that Highsmith wasn't just an innocent young writer hoping to make her mark. No. Highsmith, it is obvious from the beginning, was a dangerous talent, an unpredictable force prepared to execute on her literary desires and vision. I can only begin to imagine how this novel (dropping in 1950), written by a woman, would have contained its own unique blast zones. Don't look at the explosion, just turn your cheek to the heat.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN has been on my list forEVER so when I found out that I could get an ARC of a new edition, I was like, hmm, let me think, um yes please! Because I am one of those unbearable people who refuses to watch film adaptions of things until I have read the book thing, so now I can watch the movie version of the thing!
Rife with m/m subtext and dramatic tension, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is the tale of a Faustian bargain conducted between strangers with all the casualty of a handshake. Imagine you're on a train minding your own business, an individual struggling to obtain a divorce with your cheating pregnant spouse who's all like, "Okay, babe, we can get the divorce but only if you stay with me until I have the kid because I want the protection and I can ruin you, haw haw haw." You're not in a very good mood. You need this job. And then you meet this drunken but cold-eyed individual who gives off desperation and ruthlessness in equal vibes and you have one of those weirdo-sitting-next-to-you-on-public-transit conversations and he's just bought you dinner and suddenly he's like, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if someone murdered your spouse for you and oh, by the way, murder my father."
Originally, I was super into the beginning of the book. It's tautly written and suspensefully plotted, and even though literally everyone in this book is awful, the hero, Guy (the every-guy?), is relatable in his selfishness and his paranoia. Bruno, the stranger, is also compelling. At times, he is magnetic. At other times, he's about to fall apart. Neither of these guys is a mastermind, so you know there's no way their plan is going to work out-- if they even put it into action! Will they? Won't they? Dun, dun, dun. But the end of the book kind of fell flat for me. I actually had the same issue with THE PRICE OF SALT, which also took forever to get where it was going in a classic case of Last-Actitis and ended in a way that kind of felt haphazardly tacked on. The only book by this author that I have truly loved so far (and need desperately to reread) was THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. But this one is ok and I think it gives context for the movies, both of which took some pretty significant liberties with the plot, iirc.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3.5 stars. After reading The Talented Mr. Ripley, I confess I really did want to like this book more. But, given this was her debut novel it's pretty darn good and does make one think: Could a manipulative psychopath really drive one to this kind of evil by the arousal of fear?? A seemingly normal “Guy” and psychopath Bruno are strangers on a train whose secrets revealed lead to Bruno suggesting they create the “perfect murder". Guy doesn’t take him seriously, just wants to be rid of him, and is eventually led on a downward spiral. Patricia Highsmith certainly has a knack for creating unlikable characters and disturbing scenes--and it was worth listening to the audiobook for the true essence of the characters’ distinct voices. Strangers on a Train was more like watching a train wreck—it made me really uncomfortable yet somehow I couldn’t bring myself to turn away, but wanted to get past it quickly!
Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far - and it gets just the least little thing to push them over the brink. Anybody. Even your grandmother. I know!
A disturbing proposition that I happen to strongly disagree with, but I can't think of a more able writer to raise doubts in my mind and to argue the merits of the case. According to her biographical notes, Patricia Highsmith started her study of perverted human nature at a very early age ( At the age of eight, she discovered Karl Menninger's The Human Mind and was fascinated by the case studies of patients afflicted with mental disorders such as pyromania and schizophrenia. ), and a list of her favorite authors include Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Conrad. It is no surprise then that, when she turned her talent towards writing crime fiction, she concentrated not on the whodunit questions, but on the motivations and the twisted reasonings in the mind of the killers.
"Strangers on a Train" is her debut novel, and the circumstances alluded to in the opening statement are as follows: two men accidentally meet and start a conversation during one of those long nights traversing the praerie. One of them, Guy, is a young arhitect on the brink of success, who goes back to his native Midwestern hometown to get a divorce from his embittered wife. The other, Bruno, is a rich socialite with an alcohol addiction and a deep seated hatred for his tight-fisted father. I am simplifying things here, as there are undercurrents and side issues that will come into play, a baggage of repressed feelings and unackowledged yearnings that would put a roomfull of psychologists to work for a year to untangle - Oedipal, Faustian, homosexual, envy, greed, anxiety - the list could go on and on, but basically Guy sees himself a a straight shooter, and Bruno is revealed even from the first statements a raving psychopat. The object of Highsmith's study is then not Bruno, already damaged goods, but Guy, and the path that will lead him to abandon all his principles and participate in the psychopat's game.
Mention of the game, means that from this point forward the review will contain spoilers, so tread carefully if you are unfamiliar with the story or with Alfred Hitchcock's famous movie adaptation.
- - - -
The plan is for each man to solve the other man's problem. Bruno will get rid of Guy's wife, and Guy will knock off Bruno's father. In this way both will have unbreakable alibis, and the police will find no motive for the murders, since the two men are supposedly strangers to one another. As any sane person would do, Guy rejects the offer without a second of doubt. But Bruno is another kettle of fish.
- "What do you want, Bruno?" - "Something. Everything. I got a theory a person ought to do everything it's possible to do before he dies, and maybe die trying to do something that's really impossible."
The first half of the novel concentrates more on Bruno's side of the story, and it was a page turner for me, despite the repulsive feeling I got from dwelling so long inside the mind of a deranged person. Patricia Highsmith is the writer that sets down the standard by which other psychological thrillers will be judged in the future. Arguably, her Ripley books are more subtle and better argumented, but the major themes and the style is already evident here, in her first novel. One quote I think is enough to illustrate my point:
Oh, yes, he had felt terrific power! That was it. He had taken away a life. Now, nobody knew what life was, everybody defended it, the most priceless possession, but he had taken one away. That night there had been the danger, the ache of his hands, the fear in case she made a sound, but the instant when he felt that life had left her, everything else had fallen away, and only the mysterious fact of the thing he did remained, the mystery and the miracle of stopping life.
The second part of the novel switches focus on Guy, and here is where I started to struggle a little, not with the pacing, which remains tightly wounded, but with the lead character's motivations. I found the weakening of the ethical principles in the young arhitect a touch too abrupt and convenient for the needs of the plot. The moral blackmail that Bruno exercises on Guy is still within the parameters of that deranged mind, but the response of Guy is for me out of character - a debilitating weakness and a torturous chain of reasoning that swings wildly from denial of facts to fatalistic acceptance of Bruno's arguments. Case in point: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Guy still pretends Bruno has nothing to do with the death of his first wife. I know temporary insanity is an accepted pledge in American courts of law, but for me this a cop out. To illustrate the kind of debate that goes oninside Guy's head, I have picked up one of his monologues:
... love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in different proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, the male and female, the positive the negative.
Had this novel been writen by a male author, such association between evil and the female principle would have been cause for burning at the stake by feminists. Why did Highsmith include it here? Is it a mirror of the relationship between sexes in the early 50's? Or some other deeper disappointment in her own sentimental liaisons? Since the author preferred to be discreet about her personal life, my speculations here are gratuitous, but it is interesting to note the level of analysis that can be supported in the behaviour observations of Highsmith's characters.
The third part of the novel started to drag on for me, as the lines are already drawn in the conflict of personalities between Bruno and Guy, the action is concluded, and the only unresolved issue is the aftermath of the crime. Who will punish the successful criminal? Society seems unable to, and an appeal to Bruno's conscience is an exercise in futility. The only one left is Guy, and his late arrival misgivings rang as contrived to me as his earlier acquiescence to Bruno's demands. In all honesty, Highsmith is still brilliant in her exposition and in her ability to go from the personal to the problems of society as a whole, but as a reader I was surprisingly eager to get it over with, not caring one way or another if Guy embraces his Dark Side, or if he returns to the fold of the responsible social animal.
Conclusion: mixed feelings, admiration for the author's talent, coupled with personal dislike for one of her main characters (surprisingly, not the openly corrupt one). The rank of the novel among the classics of crime fiction is well deserved. I have started with a controversial theory, and I would like to finish on a more ambiguous note, one that is easier to get behind, even as it deconstructs most of my arguments above:
Logic doesn't always work out, so far as people go.
Possibly I have been reading too many Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson gutter noir novels, tightly constructed, no waste, down and dirty, but I thought this was both elegant and about 1/3 longer than it needed to be. Patricia Highsmith imo gets high marks for this book that Hitchcock made into a classic movie, but it is also full of too many rather dull and sophisticated suburbanites. And yes, I am also reading #34 of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot so I have a fairly high tolerance usually for rich snobs as characters, but usually they are less dull than many of these folks. Guy and Bruno, our two main characters, are interesting, though, because they are corrupt in ways that the Good and Boring are not. These two operate homo-erotically, and dopplegangerishly and Oedipally as a lot of mid- nineteenth-century mysteries seemed to be, with lost of psychopaths and sociopaths. Apparently Highsmith liked both psychology and “literary” fiction; she studied the psych texts of her time, and also liked Camus, Dostoevsky, the darker guys that inform a lot of noir. So her work is something along the lines of psychological thriller more than detective fiction. We read this from the perspective of Guy and Bruno.
Guy, an up-and-coming architect, is talking to a stranger, Bruno, on a train and for some (bad) reason he spills all the details about his train wreck of a personal life: He and his wife are separated and seeing other people and they are seeking an amicable divorce. The stranger hears the story from a Guy he increasingly likes (and “likes,” maybe) and he talks about murdering her for Guy. Guy says no, he finds out she is pregnant and then she miscarries, but (spoiler alert!) Bruno does in fact kill her. Can Guy now go on with his life with his new love, Anne? Well, it's not that simple. Bruno wants to get rid of his Dad, and he says to Guy, if you don’t kill my Dad for me, I will make it clear you are implicated in the killing of your own wife, so. . . . Guy does kill Bruno's Dad. This is a stretch to believe, I’ll admit, but the point about them is that they are essentially one character, Jekyll and Hyde, and they are dopplegangers, and they are attracted to each other, and they are both more in love with their mothers than any other women. This is the Oedipal part, for both men. Anyway, there's a lot you are going to have to question about in this story beyond your disbelief about Guy becoming murderer.
But, Highsmith has other concerns in her psychological drama:
“Any kind of person can murder. Purely circumstances and not a thing to do with temperament! People get so far -- and it takes just the least little thing to push them over the brink. Anybody. Even your grandmother. I know.”
And this stems from our “doubleness,” our capacity for good and evil:
“People, feelings, everything! Double! Two people in each person. There's also a person exactly the opposite of you, like the unseen part of you, somewhere in the world, and he waits in ambush.”
Guy, the good architect, has as his opposite Bruno, the loser, and this relationship is an emblem of the human condition:
“But love and hate, he thought now, good and evil, lived side by side in the human heart, and not merely in differing proportions in one man and the next, but all good and all evil. One had merely to look for a little of either to find it all, one had merely to scratch the surface. All things had opposites close by, every decision a reason against it, every animal an animal that destroys it, the male the female, the positive the negative.”
The attraction to their mothers by our two antiheroes is kind of creepily interesting in this story, as is the mention of mother characteristics in each woman either of them gets involved with in some way.
Drink, present in most detective stories and noir in particular (and looking back to Dostoevsky), is also an interesting aspect of this story:
“The way to see the world was to see it drunk. Everything was created to be seen drunk.”
“The tragedy was not even the first drink, because the first drink was not the first resort but the last."
“The taste of Scotch, though Guy didn’t much care for it, was pleasant because it reminded him of Anne. She drank Scotch, when she drank. It was like her, golden, full of light, made with careful art."
This is like a lot of noir sort of Calvinist in that it assumes kind of baseline total depravity. That's an interesting aspect of noir in general. Strangers is maybe 3.75 for me, not as good as the Ripley novels I recall reading years ago or as deliciously evil as the Thompson or Woolritch books. I glanced at reviews that gave it 1 or 2 stars from friends I respect, but hey, I liked it quite a bit in the end.
I thought it was too long—my Norton paperback weighed in at 281 pages, small print—but wow, for 1950, this was some crazzzzzzy writing. Or 2021 for that matter. 😐 I think the one thing that stuck with me was the message that good and evil are not on opposite ends of a spectrum, but with enough pressure or the right circumstance, a saint can be pushed into doing a dastardly evil thing. The story line built by Patricia Highsmith did have some plausibility to it. It’s almost like: There but for the grace of God go I.
Well, another thing that stuck with me is don’t talk to strangers on a train. She or he might talk me into murdering their father, and I might casually say I would like So-and-So dead, and that stranger might turn maniacal or homicidal on me and instantly want So-and-So dead (to please me) and then unbeknownst to me kill So-and So. 😮 Limit one’s conversation with strangers on trains—and planes— to the Weather Channel. 😐
I have Highsmith’s The Selected Short Stories (Norton, 64 stories, ~500 pages)) and Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Short Stories of Patricia Highsmith (Norton, 436 pp, 28 stories). This novel has piqued my curiosity, along with an article in The London Review of Books about her life, to dip into these short stories no doubt, and soon!
Note: Quote from book on two sides of us…The duality within • And yet, for all his loathing, Guy recognizes in Bruno the opposite half of himself. “The doubleness of everything — you know, the positive and the negative, side by side. Two people in each person. There’s always a person exactly the opposite of you, somewhere in the world, and he waits in ambush.”
Nightmare on a train. The premise is simple enough. Two men meet on a train and have a weird discussion about swapping murders. Patricia Highsmith’s intriguing but imperfect tale is definitely a chilling portrait of obsessive psychopathy. It also asks an unsettling question: Do we all have a dark side?
This book is short and mostly to the point, but it could have been shorter, perhaps even a novella. Told in third person omniscient point of view, Strangers on a Train features nicely fleshed-out main characters Guy Haines, a buttoned-up architect, and Charles Bruno, a relaxed character who spends most of his time drunk.
The story’s hook is decent and propels it forward most of the time, although Strangers on a Train slows time and again when Highsmith wrote about Guy’s career woes. Guy’s work situation has little, if any, relevance to the greater story, so I didn't care about his work worries. This is partially where Strangers on a Train carries on for too long.
The story has an odd set-up in the sense that It’s as if Highsmith didn’t know how she wanted Guy and Bruno to be, despite crafting them distinctly. It’s all very muddled, and the second half is therefore markedly weaker than the first.
The attention on obsessive psychopathy is mostly in the beginning and is fascinating and the main reason to read Strangers on a Train. Highsmith didn’t portray it complexly, but she understood this frightening disorder, and she knew how to portray harassment and obsession at its creepiest.
All in all, Strangers on a Train is a simple, merely good story. For every strength, it has a corresponding weakness, and its loose organization and capricious main characters frustrated me.
"And Bruno, he and Bruno. Each was what the other had not chosen to be, the cast-off self, what he thought he hated, but perhaps in reality loved."
Strangers on a Train is another case where most people have seen the movie but haven't read the book or didn't know there was a novel behind it. In this case, if you've seen the movie, and then go to read Highsmith's book, you end up with two different entities. The basic plot is the same -- two men, total strangers, meet on a train; one (Bruno) is a psychopath and in conversation things eventually come around to the concept of the "perfect murder." Bruno will get rid of the woman who stands in the way of the other man's (Guy Haines) path to happiness, and Guy in return, will get rid of Bruno's father. Guy has no intention of carrying out his side of Bruno's imaginary bargain, but Bruno kills Guy's wife anyway. I can see why Hitchcock got involved with this movie -- it seems tailor made for the man. But this is where movie and novel take different paths. Actually, the book and movie part company very early on.
There's really no need to rehash the plot of this book since it is so very well known, but it's worth saying that the strength of this novel is in Highsmith's ability to very quickly bring the reader inside of her characters' heads. The same is true in her Talented Mr. Ripley. In Strangers on a Train, she examines the very complex relationship between two men, strangers before they had that fateful meeting on the train, but whose lives afterward become inescapably interwined. The reader sees what drives each man not only individually, but also in the complexity of the ties that bring them "closer than brotherhood," even when they are not together. The quotation at the beginning of this post, to me, allows the reader to comprehend this tangled and tortuous relationship (and I could talk forever on the topic but I'll spare you), but the true genius of this novel is this: most of what creates the tension and suspense in this story plays out in the space of their minds. Sure, there are the physical murder scenes, but even here, you are taken step by step through the entire process of killing as seen through the respective characters' eyes. As the story progresses and you feel that all-too human need to sympathize with someone, you begin to realize that sympathy becomes an elusive, rather slippery concept where the two main players are concerned.
If I had read Strangers on a Train as my first foray into the mind of Patricia Highsmith, I would have bought every single book she ever wrote just praying that that they'd all be this good. I had to disagree with someone recently who complained that the book just didn't have enough "action," because frankly, action is not what Highsmith's writing is all about, a point evidently lost on the person but whatever. Anyone who picks up one of her books should know that she's going to dive right into the psyche and pull out whatever's there for all to see -- and then you're along for the ride as she slowly starts the dissection. I can't speak highly enough about this book, or the author: Highsmith is genuinely in a class of her own.
Leído en la sala "Libro de Cine" de Telegram perteneciente al Club literario Atreyu.
He tenido sentimientos encontrados con mi primer acercamiento a la obra de Patricia Highsmith.
Me suelen gustar novelas con más ritmo, pero creo que precisamente lo que más he disfrutado del libro ha sido esa evolución pausada de los acontecimientos y el cómo iba aumentando la presión poco a poco como si estuviéramos en un espacio cerrado y nos fuéramos quedando sin aire. A todo eso hay que añadir una narrativa brillante "hacia adentro" mediante la cual, la autora nos hace unas completísimas visitas guiadas por las mentes de los personajes.
¿Por qué se me caen un par de estrellas de las cinco que por todo lo anterior merecería? Porque todo el peso de la trama recala en los hombros de sus dos protagonistas… y no empaticé ni con el mal en mayúsculas de uno ni con la gestión de la culpa del otro. Pese a que no entendí muchas de sus decisiones, creo que son grandísimos personajes y que la autora hizo un muy buen trabajo con ellos.
"Pero el amor y el odio, pensaba ahora, el bien y el mal, vivían juntos en el corazón humano; en vez de hallarse distribuidos desproporcionalmente en los hombres, formaban una especie de bloques monolíticos, uno bueno y otro malo".
El bloque monolítico de todo lo bueno que tiene la novela (que es mucho) creo que supera con creces a las pegas que en ella pudiéramos encontrar. ¡Ha sido una gran LC! 🚂👤👤
As I have said earlier, it is a dicey affair to one-star a classic on GR. Some people may see it as blasphemy: and maybe, one can expect a lynch mob. But what to do? I did not like this book: could not bring myself to finish it even; so one-star is the only option.
My only acquaintance with Patricia Highsmith before this novel was The Terrapin, a terrifying short story. So I was pretty sure I would like this novel, even though the story was familiar to me from Hitchcock's famous movie of the same name. I was prepared for some lack of suspense because I knew the story - but was not at all prepared for boredom, which is all the book gave me.
The movie itself has plot holes - only to be expected in any Hitchcock film, as he himself touts his use of the MacGuffin - but the director always gets away with it because of his masterly handling of pace and suspense. Well, the book is even worse. IMO, the story itself is a huge plot hole. Two strangers, Guy Haines and Charlie Bruno casually meet on a train. Guy tells Bruno about his unfaithful wife, who wouldn't give him a divorce. The clearly deranged Bruno suggests that he kill Guy's wife, and Guy return the favour by killing his troublesome father: a sort of murder swap. He refuses the screwy offer, but Bruno goes ahead and carries out his part of the plan anyway - then begins dogging Guy's footsteps to carry out his part of the "bargain", and from there onwards it's a descent into darkness.
The problem I had with this premise is the tenuousness of the case against Guy that Bruno could muster. It is true that he could cause some unpleasantness, but which court would convict a man based on the unsupported testimony of another, about an extremely dubious "contract", based on a drunken conversation in a train? And why doesn't Guy confide in Anne, his girlfriend, at the beginning itself? Can psychological guilt be so strong? For me, it was unbelievable.
Also, I found the writing to be ponderous and a chore to get through. Deep psychological examination of the characters' mindset would have been fascinating in a serious work of literature: but in a suspense novel, it became tedious after a while. I got seriously fed up with Guy's ruminations.
Maybe I'd have enjoyed the novel if I had come to it without expectations. Maybe I'd have enjoyed it if I had not seen the movie at all. Maybe.
This book had me spellbound right from the beginning. Highsmith slowly built up the tension and never broke it.
Two men, Guy Haines and Charles Bruno meet on a train. A night of drinking and sharing of their lives ensues. Bruno comes up with what he thinks is a fail proof plan of murder. Guy becomes ensnared in his plan, and his life slowly starts unravelling.
“He had merely to crush the other part of himself, and live in the self he was now.”
There are so many psychological elements that can be explored throughout this book. There is ,of course, the fight between good and evil in one’s own self. There is definitely an Oedipal complex and there is an underlying tone of homosexuality, which would be very interesting to discuss. Highsmith is brilliant at characterization- to watch Guy and Bruno evolve was absolutely masterful. I thought of them as one person-one portraying the good and one the evil. But as the author shows, we all can go from one to the other when forced. Watching the two of them felt like a cat and mouse game. Yes, there is lots of tension in this one, but a really good kind of tension.
I was a bit disappointed in the ending after finishing it, but on further reflection, I changed my mind and think she gave us a perfect conclusion! Really enjoyed this one. Have been trying to go on to another book, but the writing pales after this one.
Budding architect Guy Haines is currently in the process of trying to divorce unfaithful wife Miriam, during a train journey he meets Charles Bruno a playboy how’s father won’t allow him to have access to all of he’s money in fear of wasting it.
Bruno strikes up the idea of him killing Miriam, whilst Haines returns the favour of murdering Bruno’s father. Two deaths - No motives. Guy laughs the suggestion off until Bruno confirms that he has killed Miriam whilst Guy was away in Mexico.
I’d already seen the Hitchcock movie so new the basic premise, the two do differ as this is more character driven with Bruno’s blackmailing and subsequent obsession with Guy. This slowly gripping psychological thriller just seems to hook me, I’ve even seen a play adaptation which I also loved.
The original idea of murder swapping is so so clever. The book clearly brings Highsmith’s own sexuality to the fore with Bruno’s actions towards Guy. It one of them stories that just appeals to me in any form.
I've liked other Highsmith books more than I liked this one, but I still thought this book was good, although some parts of it definitely could have been shortened. I listened to the audiobook and that may be why my chief impression of Bruno is that he was a whiny, self-pitying drunk. Maybe the narrator did too good a job. Bruno was nothing like the charismatic sociopath that Highsmith created in her Ripley series. I saw the movie based on this book eons ago and all I remember is that both actors were extraordinarily handsome, so I have no idea how closely the movie followed the book. The book is worth reading, but if you're new to Highsmith I would recommend starting with "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
“and bruno, he and bruno. each was what the other had not chosen to be, the cast-off self, what he thought he hated but perhaps in reality loved.”
this book was SO interesting. it starts off with guy and bruno meeting on the train one day. guy is a seemingly put together, successful architect while bruno is a talkative man who says everything he’s thinking — which ends up coming back to bite him multiple times in the book.
guy doesn’t really take bruno seriously at first, he just likes having someone to talk to about his wife, whom he’d recently been having problems with. so when bruno suggests the “perfect murder”, guy kind of just shrugs it off as bruno being himself. bruno proposes that he kills mariam, guy’s wife, and, in return, guy has to kill bruno’s father.
after their first encounter, guy doesn’t think much of it. that’s until he finds out that miriam has been murdered. he starts to question everything and starts wondering about what kind of person bruno actually is and what exactly he got himself into.
this book is great thriller and it explores how two seemingly opposite people get tangled up in each other’s lies and obsession. it does such a great job at getting into guy’s complex feelings about bruno and both characters are so interesting.
this book was a bit slow for me at first, but as i kept reading, it just got better and better and i couldn’t put it down. such a great read!
3.5 stars, rounded down because this genre isn’t my favorite.
Patricia Highsmith knows how to build an atmosphere of tension and suspense. She makes her characters seem like bugs caught in webs, the more they struggle to extricate themselves, the tighter the web becomes...and the spider is sitting there in view, watching the struggle, enjoying it really. She is simply the master of psychological distress.
You would think that Guy Haines would be a man hard to understand. Charley Bruno is a psychopath, insane, beyond the pale--but Guy is just a guy like me or you who gets embroiled in a situation not of his making and becomes an active participant. Sounds like he would be hard to understand, but what makes this work is that he isn’t. What he does seems natural, sane, inevitable, and even his attitude toward crazy Charley somehow makes sense. Makes you feel like life turns on a dime and you could cross a line without even knowing it is there.
If you love this kind of tense, dramatic conundrum, this is one of the best. It is classic. I felt the same knotted up feeling that I felt reading her other novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. But, for me, there lies the problem. I hate having my gut in knots when it doesn’t serve a higher purpose, and this is like a horror film--pure entertainment, if you like to be entertained that way. I guess I can find enough horror in the real world without wanting to visit it in the pages of a book.
Since I haven't seen this movie, I wasn't aware that this book was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 film with the same title until after I finished reading this book. Published in 1950, this book is remarkable in the sense that it has a modern, contemporary tone.
Guy Haines, the architect, and Charles Anthony Bruno, the wealthy shiftless wanderer, meet on the train and share personal details.
From the blurb: Guy is a successful architect in the midst of a divorce, Bruno turns out to be a sadistic psychopath who manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. As Bruno carries out his twisted plan, Guy is trapped in Highsmith's perilous world - where, under the right circumstances, anybody is capable of murder.
Of course it did not work out as planned, but evil did gain the upperhand in this classic, dark, gritty, psychological thriller. The duality of the weak versus the strong determines the outcome of the two people who meet on the train.
It's a gripping story, but gritting on the teeth. It's morally disgusting but psychologically exciting. It's the evil weak against the evil strong. There's no good anywhere in sight between the two main characters - although it might have appeared differently at first.
But wow, what a story! The role of women bring another chilling dimension and darkness into the sinister tale.
Way beyond my comfort zone. But I wanted to read it for a long time, and now I did. Ticked off from the Bucket List. Finito And really, I do not want to watch the movie. I won't survive it! :-))
I went into this already familiar with Hitchcock’s film version of the same story. The opening premise of the film and HighSmith’s novel are the same. Two strangers meet on the train and discuss among other things, people in their lives: a Wife, a Father, who they would be better off without. One of these strangers, Charles Bruno, is an extremely well imagined sociopath, while the other, Guy, is a mild mannered architect whose role in this story I never entirely accept. even though Guy never agreed to this plan. Now he is pressuring Guy to do his part and eliminate Bruno’s Father.
After this setup the film and the book are very different. The book delves into the conscience of Bruno and Guy and takes you into their heads. While at first interesting this became quite tedious.
Then again it could be that I simply preferred Hitchcock’s adaptation.
I can thank Peter Swanson's Eight Perfect Murders for leading me to this one. Strangers on a Train made the main character's list of best ideas for committing murder and getting away with it. As you can imagine, I had certain expectations going into this book - with mixed results.
I'd heard of Strangers on a Train before; knew it was an old B&W film about a murder plot, but that's about all I knew. In the book, Guy Haines, a successful architect, is travelling by train from NY to TX to take care of some old business. He's been living apart from his cheating wife for three years, and now she's ready to talk about a divorce. Also on the train is Charles Bruno, a young, very wealthy, very spoiled drunk. Charles is not dealing well with his daddy issues, but he adores his mother and can't understand why she stays with him. Through pure chance, Bruno and Haines strike up a conversation that leads to having dinner in Bruno's private cabin. Over steak and scotch (mostly scotch), they share their troubles. Eventually, Bruno verbalizes an idea for solving each other's problems: he kills Haines' wife while Haines is out of town, and Haines kills Bruno's father while Bruno's out of town. It's the perfect alibi, and because they're virtually strangers, the police won't be able to connect the other man to the murder!
Brilliant. Even with today's modern forensics, it would be nearly impossible for the police to solve. I only have a couple of issues with the plot.
First, Bruno is a raging alcoholic. It's hard to believe most people would spend more than 5 minutes in his company, much less confide their darkest secrets in him. In fact, Bruno is the biggest issue in the novel and as the propellant of the entire plot, the believability factor hinges on the reader buying into his ability to pull off his murder and put pressure on Haines. Problem is, I never bought it for a second. Second is Haines - what are the chances that Bruno would randomly come across a man susceptible to being talked into murder? It would be taking a huge chance to approach any old stranger with such a proposal, and because he was extremely drunk during the entire train ride, I can't believe he exercised any kind of substantial judgment beforehand.
Another thing is that I went into this expecting to read about a perfect murder, and culprits getting away scot-free (expectations, they're the worst!) Instead, the last 3/4 of the book mostly focuses on Bruno's drunken rage for his father and women in general and, more interestingly, on Haines' internal struggle with the stress of it all. When he realizes Bruno moved forward without Haines' agreement, he's awash with guilt. That guilt creates distance between him and his current girlfriend Ann. As Bruno stupidly continues to make contact with him, first by letter, then by phone, then in person, Haines' desperation builds. If he fulfills his part of the bargain, would that make Bruno go away? The tension, paranoia, guilt and eventually the madness of both men reaches a crescendo, implying that if one or both men got away with a murder, they would still pay for their crime.
Strangers on a Train was certainly interesting. I read The Talented Mr. Ripley many years ago when the Matt Damon movie was all the rage, and I *hated* that book. SoaT was by far the better read, although I suspect Patricia Highsmith is just not the author for me.