Book Review | Strangers on a Train

written by Wenlock Books' bookseller, Jasmine

Strangers on a Train
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Price: £8.99

Strangers on a Train is a psychological crime novel, written and set in 1950s America. In the first chapter we are introduced to Guy Haines, an architect travelling south to organise his divorce, and Charles ‘Bruno’ Bruno, a young and unhinged New Yorker. During this train journey, the reader is introduced to the troubles that these characters face; Guy’s wife is pregnant by another man and Bruno’s rich father is with-holding money from him. After an alcohol fuelled evening, Bruno brashly proposes that he and Guy exchange murders, suggesting that Guy kills his father and in return he will kill Guy’s wife. The story follows these strangers through murder, investigations and the unbreakable connections that form between them.

Right from the beginning, my attention was held by the intense characters and ever changing and completely unpredictable storyline. What I particularly enjoyed was Highsmith’s depiction of Bruno, writing him as (I feel) an entirely believable character despite being a psychopath. In parts of this book, Bruno reminded me of the narrator of The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe because of his calm and calculated approach to murder and overwhelming need to kill. In contrast to Bruno, Highsmith wrote Guy as a relatable figure which allowed her to cleverly manipulate the reader’s sense of what qualifies as reasonable. This, in conjunction with the subjective plot, created a very thought provoking read, leaving me questioning where my own morals would lie in the same situations.

I love crime fiction so I was expecting to enjoy reading this book. However, what I wasn’t expecting was for it to be gripping without being scary. In the past I’ve read a lot of Linwood Barclay, which although I’ve enjoyed, I feel as if I was gripped with fear rather than by the storyline. Compared to the likes of Barclay’s novels, Highsmith’s storyline was much more mentally thrilling than frightening and because of the easy to read style, I was able to read for hours on end without becoming bored.

I’d definitely recommend Strangers on a Train to anybody looking for a fast-paced and interesting novel. I would also recommend this book to anybody who enjoys classic detective novels because essentially this book is a detective story from another perspective, told in a way that retains the investigation and intrigue that are so vital to the genre. There is nothing exclusively ‘grown-up’ about this book (Linwood Barclay novels are often unnecessarily sweary and sex sceney) so I’m sure that readers GCSE and upwards would enjoy it.