Strangers on a Train is a suspense novel by Patricia Highsmith that was written in 1950. It was adapted for the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock the following year. After reading the novel, I was rather surprised with the liberties Hitchcock took with the material in the screen version. Well, this little entry concerns just the book, so I will get to it.
A young architect is on a train to meet with his estranged wife to see if he can finalize his divorce. Another passenger sits down in his compartment an strikes up a conversation. The second fellow has some resentment of his father he wants to discuss. During this unexpected encounter, Charles Bruno offers the suggestion that he and Guy Haines exchange murders. Since the motive would remain rather murky, the murders should remain unsolved. Haines has a few more scruples than Bruno, however shaking his persistent fellow passenger becomes a bit harder than he anticipated.
The plot is a rather fascinating concept. There is an intriguing character study in the midst of the convoluted prose. I get that the prose styles in the mid-twentieth century were a bit different than what modern readers would expect, however this one was a little more challenging to stay involved. Highsmith seems more fond of long exposition than I even expected for that era. She does not seem to adhere to the maxim of “show, don’t tell”.
Highsmith is not without talent though. There is a rather distinctive flow to her writing style, but there are times where the story dragged and getting through some of her chapters was more of a chore than I preferred.
The experience was not without some merit. Train rides still tend to be intriguing settings for mayhem and menacing encounters. There wasn’t much actual mayhem on the train, but the encounter was menacing enough.
Anyway, I had some trouble staying focused due to the lengthy pages of unnecessary exposition, but I can still see why there is some affection from other fans for this work. This also may not be the only time I wade into the depths of Highsmith’s imagination.
Well, I will next return to the lodgings of 221 B Baker Street in Victorian London where James Lovegrove’s The Christmas Demon awaits the attention of Sherlock Holmes.