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Publisher's Summary

In Patricia Highsmith's debut novel, 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. 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.

The inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1951 film, Strangers on a Train launched Highsmith on a prolific career of noir fiction and proved her mastery of depicting the unsettling forces that tremble beneath the surface of everyday contemporary life.

©2015 Patricia Highsmith (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about Strangers on a Train

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Pretty good if you enjoy noir

STORY (suspense) - The story takes place probably in the 1950's, partially in Texas and partially in more northern states. Guy is a successful businessman, and Bruno is a drunken loser. They meet on a train, begin conversing, and eventually address the people they each hate most in their lives. Bruno despises his father, and Guy hates his soon-to-be ex-wife. Bruno, being mentally twisted, suggests they kill each other's undesirable family member. At first Guy protests but, through a series of events, eventually is convinced they should attempt to execute Bruno's plan. I'll stop there so as not to give anything away.

The story isn't boring, but it's not exciting either. It just kind of moves along with a few surprises here and there. Bruno stays true to his personality throughout the story, but Guy progressively embraces his opposite darker personality. He also changes his feelings for Bruno, who he dislikes in the beginning of the story but later thinks of as almost a brother. There is sort of a hidden meaning to the story, which is that absolutely anyone is capable of murder given the right circumstances. Yikes.

PERFORMANCE - Bronson Pinchot (the actor) reads this book. Usually I really enjoy his performances, but not this time. In particular, Bruno sounded like a whiney spoiled child as opposed to a drunken psychopath.

OVERALL - There's no sex or cursing and only a tiny bit of mild violence. Men and women could both equally enjoy this story but, as I said, I don't necessarily recommend it. It's just okay.

17 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Descent Into Madness

One man's psychopathic obsession becomes another man's straight-jacket. This is a book that grew in my estimation after finishing. While actively listening, I found it difficult to enjoy the story because of the lack of sympathetic characters. Now that I have a week to digest, I find that the irresistible pull of insanity, that one of the characters succumbs to, is subtly done For that, and for Bronson Pinchot's soothing narration, I now think this a pretty fair, if unsavory, exploration of human depravity in the guise of a crime thriller.

5 people found this helpful

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Not my cup of tea

I rarely like books where things are going wrong for the protagonist the whole story and this was no exception. The performance was very good, but I couldn't wait for the story to end.

63 people found this helpful

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An excellent story with outstanding narration!

I absolutely loved this story. The characters were so very well written and thought out. The story moved along at a perfect pace. Bronson Pinchot gave an exceptional performance! His voicing of the characters was so wonderful that I feel like I know these people. I highly recommend this audiobook, outstanding.

36 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Suffers from time

Incredible story...but probably much better in 1950-something. Telling, though, to see the homophonic tendencies of the author (so glad this could not have been told like this in 2019). I have a feeling the ending would have differed as well. Still, most of the tale was riveting. And the narrator, of course, was spectacular.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A Hardboiled Novel of Manners

Any additional comments?

If the term doesn’t already exist, I want to coin this a ‘hardboiled novel of manners’. There’s a genteel novel-of-manners feel to it as we get a lot of attention on the niceties of how properly to entertain someone, how architecture or fashion functions as social statement, and how people generally express themselves through subtle public gestures.

Highsmith’s central insight seems to be that civilization (or what she has her characters call “society” when it comes to the fore in the final pages) is a thin veneer on top of a species with the capacity to be real animals. Bruno says as much in the opening scene when he declares that every man is capable of murder, and that’s borne out. Everyone (except the saintly Anne) is indeed capable of murder. We need laws to keep us from going wild, but it isn’t clear society truly wants that. Most of the characters seem happy to tolerate murder as long as it doesn’t affect them. It just seems understood that people do bad things.

Highsmith uses that hardboiled axiom to explore the famous premise of the novel: two men meet on a train and toy with the idea of having each commit a murder on the other’s behalf. Without motives, each murderer would go unsuspected, yet each would accomplish his goal.

In Hitchcock’s hands, that story became a chance for him to explore his own favored notion of a protagonist who, somehow a little guilty or compromised (whether for listening to a murderous stranger on a train or simply peeping into a neighbor’s window) finds himself a fundamentally innocent man bound up with truly despicable people. Highsmith’s vision is much darker. [SPOILER] Most tellingly, Guy actually goes on to commit the murder that Bruno wants from him. Hitchcock gives his protagonist an out; he eventually pulls himself back from the “deal” he’s entered into. Highsmith’s protagonist gets broken down, however. Under the pressure of Bruno’s obsession, he proceeds to kill Bruno’s father. Later, he begins to echo many of the more Bruno’s more despicable quirks. At the end he determines that anyone can be broken down, that we’re all so fundamentally vicious that the right pressure can turn us all into characters.

There’s a crispness throughout most of this, but I think it falls a bit short in some of its psychological profiling. In the end, I simply don’t find Guy’s breakdown authentic. Compromised as he might be, I don’t accept why he doesn’t go to the police, especially when he has such compelling evidence of Bruno’s guilt. Highsmith writes compellingly, but I think this falls a bit short of the even darker, more efficient Talented Mr. Ripley.

As a final thought, I wondered whether this might in some way be a comment on the then only 6-7 years old Fountainhead. We have here a protagonist who realizes, eventually, that individuals stand apart from a rule-bound society. He feels called to do great things, and he concludes that simple things, like other people’s lives, shouldn’t hold him back.

I have not read The Fountainhead, but is there’s anything to my hunch, this is not a flattering comment. The novel ultimately does not endorse such a vision of the power of the great ego. Rather, we come to find Guy a somewhat small man, a man whose being broken down by another has undermined the real gifts he had. In fact, as I read it, this undermines Ayn Rand altogether. Skeptical as this is of what holds society together, it laments our alone-ness rather than celebrates it.

Highsmith remains the first acknowledged female star of the hardboiled tradition. If all you know of this one is the film, you’re in for a surprise.

2 people found this helpful

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GREAT PLOT AND AWESOME ENDING!

I loved the fact that it seemed so far out, but yet was a situation ANY ONE of us could actually find ourselves in. Clever writibg, excellent irony, and an awesome, unexpected ending. You find yourself not really sure who to root for! Interesting from the first page! Not too many of those to me, and I've read A LOT in 49 years!

2 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

ENTERTAINING BOOK WITH A SATISFYING ENDING.

What made the experience of listening to Strangers on a Train the most enjoyable?

I LIKED TO LISTEN TO THE INTERACTION OF BRUNO WITH EVERYONE ELSE IN THE BOOK.

What did you like best about this story?

I THINK I LIKED THE ENDING, THE READER, AND THE TENSION THAT BRUNO CAUSED GUY. THE WAY BRUNO NEVER GOES AWAY. HE KEEPS HAUNTING GUY.

What about Bronson Pinchot’s performance did you like?

LOVED IT. ESPECIALLY THE WAY HE READ BRUNO.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

IT IS ONE. BY THE SAME NAME. DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK.

2 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

I know

I know - this is a noir classic and must be at least four stars. But some books would make really great novellas or short stories and for me this is exhibit 1

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Drags and drags, horrible narration

This story drags and Bronson Pinchot’s whispery monotone made it so much worse. Ugh, gave up halfway through. I wanted all the characters to die so they would not have any more dialogue. If I’d paid for this, I’d demand a refund. The movie version is rarely better than a book but seemed so long. Or maybe Bronson just made it seem that way. I sped it up but just awful no matter what. First audiobook I have quit.

1 person found this helpful