What’s it about?
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.
I was keen to read this book as I’d recently bought A Kind Worth Killing and several bloggers had compared it to the plot in Strangers on a Train so I picked up a copy from the library.
The blurb gives you a good overview so there are no spoilers here; it happens. Bruno is a slippery character, who has a rather strange relationship with his mother and is obviously used to getting what he wants. He manages to select the perfect partner in Guy who is his complete opposite.
It’s narrative is over-wordy and descriptive and very of its time but for me would have worked better had it been shorter. I did get bored of hearing about the ins and outs of Guy’s buildings and the new house he was building for his new wife-to-be Anne. I suppose this was to create the picture of what he stood to lose; as if his freedom or life wouldn’t be sufficient!
Guy’s descent into despair following Bruno’s constant tormenting and stalking and essentially bullying him into committing a murder was great stuff. As a reader, I was thinking well what choice does he have? Bruno had set him up brilliantly so I applaud Highsmith here for her plot. What follows is Guy then trying to apply justification, dealing with the guilt and living with the fear of their actions. This felt all very 1950s film noir a la Sam Spade etc.
The best bits of this book for me were the 2 murders because right up until they actually happen there’s the chance they won’t. Bruno’s execution of his side of the deal was very slapdash, coincidental, brutal nonetheless but very cool. Whereas Guy is all over the place and even though he is totally wrong you’re just hoping he doesn’t get caught.
Overall, I liked the book but it just didn’t give me all the feels that I’ve experienced with other crime and mystery novels.
More on Patricia Highsmith here