Two strangers meet on a train and agree to commit a murder of choice for one another. Intriguing? Yes. Implausible? Perhaps. Though Patricia Highsmith’s study of a psychological relationship is close to thrillingly believable. Plus any novel set on a train is fine by me.
Less glamorous than her more famous novel, The Talented Mr Ripley, but more self-contained, Strangers on a Train is deceptively slow and languid, hiding extreme anger, tension and passion underneath the surface.
Drunken playboy Charles Bruno suggests to unhappy architect Haines that he kill his adulterous ex-wife for him in return for Guy killing his overbearing father. Guy brushes the encounter off as a drunken joke, only for Charles to understand differently.
The interactions between the two men are nuanced and loaded with meaning. As they try to second guess and double cross one another whilst staying a step ahead of the law. the plot twists and turns accordingly and the tension ratchets up. It has lots of Hitchcock about it (I think there’s even a film), but with more style, like the pacing and aesthetic of Mad Men.
With so much subtlety and style to recommend her writing, its strange that Highsmith isn’t more popular.
Read: On a long train journey