Strangers on a Train Book Cover

Strangers on a Train

Patricia Highsmith

A chance encounter on a train journey turns into the ideal murder plan; but is it really so ideal?

I got a theory a person ought to do everything it’s possible to do before he dies, and maybe die trying to do something that’s really impossible.

Guy Haines seems to have the perfect life; a successful architect with a loving fiancé, but he has a thorn in his side: his unfaithful wife Miriam, whom he is struggling to divorce. Charles Bruno, is the heir of a wealthy Long Island family. For Bruno, his father is a constant source of disapproval and the only obstacle between him and vast economic standing.

During a train journey between New York and Metcalf, Haines and Bruno become acquainted. Dining together, they engage in drunken ramblings. Guy reveals his troubles with Miriam while Bruno confides in Guy his longing to claim his inheritance. Bruno then suggests that the two swap murders – Bruno could kill Miriam, and Guy kill Bruno’s father, believing it could prove the perfect crime. With no motive and without anyone knowing of their chance encounter, how could they possibly get caught? Departing, Guy thinks that Bruno’s idea was nothing more than the musings of a drunkard but Bruno has a different idea…

Highsmith delivers a smart and unique plot, filled with murder and tension. From its innocent beginnings as a simple train ride with the acquaintance of two strangers, to the dark and sinister dilemma that Guy Haines finds himself trapped in, Highsmith builds intrigue and tests the boundaries of what could come from a mere half-hearted conversation.

How do Guy’s romantic partners, Miriam and Anne, contrast each other?

How do you view the character of Guy Haines? Do you think he was a good guy trapped in bad circumstances or do you think that he was a bad guy and that the situation revealed his true nature?

Do you think the character of Bruno becomes more psychotic as the novel progresses?

How do you think Guy and Bruno both saw their relationship and how does it change during the course of the novel?

Were you surprised by the reaction of Miriam’s lover to Guy’s confession? Do you think that this was realistic?

Why do you think Highsmith chose to end the novel with Guy’s arrest? Do you think she was teaching a lesson about guilt?

Do you think Bruno’s death had meaning? He was drunk when plotting the pivotal murders and died in a similar state of alcoholism?

Do you think that the novel would work in a modern setting?

Why do you think Bruno so desperately wanted his father dead? Was it just greed for his inheritance or were there deeper reasons?

Do you think that one person is more accountable for the crimes or do you think that there is equal blame? How does your view compare to Highsmith, did she put emphasis on one character being more at fault?


Guy cannot take anymore of Bruno’s overwhelming presence in his life and decides to give in to Bruno’s demands. As Bruno killed Miriam, Guy kills Bruno’s father. Guy’s murderous act doesn’t go smoothly; he leaves clues behind and is scratched as a result of the conflict. Subsequently, Guy becomes consumed with guilt and Bruno continues to interfere with Guy’s life, unexpectedly turning up at his wedding.

The investigations are underway: Private Detective Arthur Gerrard is investigating the death of Bruno’s father and strongly suspects Bruno to be the main culprit. Gerrard establishes the connection between Bruno and Guy and believes that Bruno was responsible for Miriam’s death.

Guy and his new wife Anne move to Canada, where they are soon followed by Bruno. During a sailing trip, Bruno gets highly intoxicated and falls overboard, drowning. Sympathetic to Bruno, Guy jumps in to try and save him but it is to no avail.

Following Bruno’s death, the investigation closes. Guy is still racked with guilt and feels the need to confess to Miriam’s former lover the events surrounding her death. However, her lover had no real affection for her and isn’t concerned by the crime. Detective Gerrard overheard Guy’s confession and he confronts him. Guy turns himself in.

  • Strangers on a Train was Patricia Highsmith’s debut novel. She went on to produce another twenty-one.
  • When the novel was adapted into film by Alfred Hitchcock, he famously managed to buy the rights cheaply, forking out only $7500.

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‘People, feelings, everything! Double! Two people in each person. There’s also a person exactly the opposite of you, like the unseen part of you, somewhere in the world, and he waits in ambush.’ 🚞 After reading a few disappointing pieces of literary fiction this year, I really just wanted to read a good, solid book. Strangers on a Train filled that gap. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed delving back into the story I first encountered via one of my favourite Hitchcock thrillers. Reading it actually made me a little nostalgic for a time in my life when I was voraciously devouring the Hitchcock collection. I think I’ll revisit that soon thanks to this book. The story concerns the excellently named Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, two strangers who meet on a train and essentially end up trading murders. Patricia Highsmith writes Bruno’s psychopathic mind with terrifying fascination. Guy’s slow and traumatic mental breakdown is similarly affecting. Fantastic characters, super tense description, and a final page revelation that genuinely made my jaw drop.

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