Monday, December 28, 2015
Review of Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950, Penguin)
Strangers on a Train was Patricia Highsmith’s first novel. At its heart is a simple but effective premise – if two strangers swap murders they can potentially commit the perfect crime. To give the tale a twist, she makes one of the strangers very keen to ensure the Faustian bargain is struck and the other a very reluctant participant. And while one has something to gain, the other has a lot to lose. Highsmith neatly manoeuvres the pieces into place, binding the two strangers together, and then ratchets up the psychological tension first with respect to the murders, then the fear of being discovered and the fear of each other as their lives become ever more entwined. It’s a nicely put together tale, though some of the plot devices are quite weak, such as Guy giving up an important commission. My main issue, however, was the characterization. Charles is somewhat one-dimensional and Guy just seems to act as a foil for Charles and the plot. Nonetheless it has an interesting hook, is an engaging story, and it’s obvious why it appealed to Hitchcock for a movie adaptation.