I don't think I've ever seen the Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train. I've heard references to it. I vaguely knew what it was about. Two strangers plot to kill someone they want dead. Or so I thought. Patricia Highsmith's novel actually ended up surprising me.
Since the action happens early on, most of my thoughts are going to be SPOILERY. If you want the short version, here it is: don't tell strangers on public transit too much personal information.
Continue on if you like...
Two strangers meet on a train (just like the title!). One is an architect traveling to his hometown in hopes of getting a divorce from his estranged wife. The other is a drunken spoiled rich brat who hates his father. The younger drunk one, Charles Bruno, somehow charms personal information out of the architect, Guy Haines. Guy has too many whiskies which loosens his tongue and he tells Bruno too much about his past, his unhappy marriage in particular. Bruno also tells Guy about his idea for the perfect murder...
|Just say, NO!|
After that regrettable evening on the train, Guy meets his wife, but turns out she doesn't want a divorce after all. That puts a damper on his plans to marry his new love, Anne. He decides to forget his troubles by taking a vacation to Mexico with Anne. While he's there, he gets word that his wife is dead. MURDERED. Of course the police want a word with him, but in the end declare her death the work of a maniac.
Not long after, the trouble starts for Guy. Bruno begins haunting him. Sending letters, making phone calls. Asking him when he's going to return the favour.
The first thing I thought was that Guy should have gotten himself a lawyer and told the police about Bruno. "It might be nothing, but I met this weird guy on the train," might have saved him a lot of trouble. Then again, who would think a stranger you had a few drinks with would murder someone for you? Well, a maniac, I guess.
Bruno is an interesting character. He's an alcoholic. He has a strange attachment to his mother. He doesn't seem to have any interest in life at all. No goals- other than to commit the perfect murder. He becomes fixated, obsessed with Guy. He stalks him, harasses him. He makes vague threats. And at the same time he seems to love Guy. He wants to hang out with him and be a part of his life.
Guy, for his part, is sometimes disgusted with Bruno, but also fascinated by him. Bruno has a kind of charm that other people besides Guy feels. Guy ends up getting more entangled with Bruno than ever intended. He invades every part of his life. He's being tortured by this man, who sees it as friendship.
Strangers on a Train has a lot of mid 20th Century tropes: Bruno hates women but LOVES his Mom, he's probably gay (or maybe he has no sexual feelings? It's hard to tell) therefore he's a villain. There's a floozy poor woman, and an angelic rich woman. Despite all of that, Highsmith doesn't create one note characters. There is much more to them than meets the eye. Even Anne. The point-of-view is mostly through Guy and Bruno, but there are brief interludes where we see into the minds of the other characters. This is more a psychological thriller than a mystery.
About the Audio: Bronson Pinchot does a spectacular job as narrator. His interpretation of Bruno is particularly good. He gives him a slurred, slightly menacing voice. In fact, all of his voices are distinctive. I guess that makes him Perfect, Perfect (at) Strangers. Woop!Woop!