Strangers on a Train was Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. I read this during my commute to and from work on the train, and I have to admit, I occasionally looked around at my fellow passengers wondering who, if any of them had murder in their hearts. I’m particularly suspicious of people jammed into the aisle in our over-full train who is looking at anyone who is seated.
Strangers on a Train follows Guy Haines, a young architect at the beginning of his career. Guy wants to marry the woman he loves, but unfortunately is already married to Miriam, who is pregnant with another man’s child. When the story began, Guy was on a train on his way to his home town in Texas, to discuss a divorce with Miriam.
During the journey a drunken stranger, Charles Bruno, forced his company on Guy, and over dinner proposed to Guy that they swap murders, that is, Charles would murder Guy’s wife and in return, Guy would murder Charles’ rich father, which would free up Charles’ inheritance. Guy was appalled by the conversation but would have forgotten all about it, except that Miriam was murdered by an unknown person several weeks later.
Instead of going to the police like a normal person and dobbing Charles in for the murder, Guy was worried that he would somehow be implicated and instead, kept quiet and carried on with his normal life. Guy suffered somewhat from a guilty conscience, but without the threat of adverse publicity from a divorce, his career took off and he and Anne, the love of his life, planned to marry. All would have continued happily had not Charles re-entered Guy’s life and harangued him into carrying out his part of their supposed bargain.
I was more than a little amused by the idea of a train journey where two passengers could enjoy a private conversation, since my train line is one of the most crowded in Melbourne and very often looks more like this recent photo from the Herald-Sun newspaper:
Understandably in these circumstances, thinking about murdering someone is fair enough, even if there is no privacy for my fellow commuters and I to be able to discuss who to get rid of first, although obviously the person who is going to get murdered first will be yelling into their mobile phone. Consider yourselves warned, loud people…
The plot of Strangers on a Train is intriguing, but the story dragged on a little. Charles’ character was overly forceful and over-the-top, while Guy’s was overly weak. I preferred The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith however still found much to enjoy in Strangers on a Train. Not only that, I’ve got the movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock to look forward to.