Strangers on a Train Additional Summary

Patricia Highsmith


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Guy Haines is on his way from New York to his hometown, Metcalf, Texas, to convince his estranged wife Miriam (who is pregnant by Owen Markman) to agree to a divorce. On the train, Guy meets Charles Bruno, a flamboyant alcoholic, who, upon learning of Haines’s situation, proposes to kill Miriam if Haines will kill Bruno’s father in return. The crime would be perfect, Bruno insists, because no connection between the two could ever be established, and no motivation could ever be discovered. Without a motive, the police would never be able to solve either crime. Haines vacillates, but he does not agree to Bruno’s plan.

In Metcalf, Haines finds Miriam more resistant to the divorce than ever. She wants to reignite their relationship and move with Haines and the unborn baby to Florida, the site of Haines’s lucrative new building project. Disgusted, Haines leaves Metcalf and learns soon after that Miriam has miscarried. Later, Bruno comes to Metcalf, finds Miriam’s home, follows her and two friends to the amusement park, and strangles Miriam.

Haines soon receives a note from Bruno identifying himself as the murderer. Haines does not report Bruno to the police; he waits for the police to find him. Meanwhile, Haines and Anne become engaged. Haines is unable to work, as his knowledge of Bruno’s crime seems to erode his creativity. Bruno continues to call, send letters, and stalk Haines. Bruno demands that Haines complete his part of their “bargain” by killing Bruno’s father. Otherwise, Bruno will speak to the authorities.

Bruno sends to Haines a deluge of maps detailing the grounds and layout of the Bruno family mansion, suggesting routes to and from the mansion, and identifying the exact spot to scale the wall surrounding it. Bruno has planned Haines’s crime meticulously: He specifies the exact number of steps in the mansion, marking those that squeak and should be avoided, and he provides a poetic memory device to enable Haines...

(The entire section is 808 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cochran, David. “ Some Torture That Perversely Eased’: Patricia Highsmith and the Everyday Schizophrenia of American Life.” Clues 18, no. 2 (Fall-Winter, 1997): 157-180. Analysis of Highsmith’s fiction, including Strangers on a Train, as subversive of the dominant political and cultural assumptions of Cold War America.

Harrison, Russell. Patricia Highsmith. New York: Twayne, 1997. An introduction to the author and her work, with a chronology and a bibliography. Half of chapter 2 discusses Strangers on a Train, praising its psychological intensity and finding its existentialist themes impressive.

Highsmith, Patricia. “Patricia Highsmith: Interview.” Interview by Diana Cooper-Clark. The Armchair Detective 14, no. 4 (Fall, 1981): 313-320. Highsmith delivers her views on a number of topics. She opines that existentialism is self-indulgent; that not everyone is capable of murder; and that the ability to murder has more to do with heredity than environment.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. Boston: The Writer, 1966. Advice for authors in which Highsmith cites her own writings, including Strangers on a Train, to illustrate her points.

Klein, Kathleen Gregory. “Patricia Highsmith.” In And Then There Were Nine . . . : More Women of Mystery, edited by Jane S. Bakerman. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985. Argues Highsmith’s crime fiction, beginning with Strangers on a Train, expands the genre’s conventions by challenging “either/or” thinking and by suggesting that anyone is capable of murder.

Mahoney, Mary Kay. “A Train Running on Two Sets of Tracks: Highsmith’s and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.” In It’s a Print! Detective Fiction from Page to Screen, edited by William Reynolds and Elizabeth Trembley. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994. Argues that Hitchcock’s film shifts the novel’s focus on psychological analysis to a focus on action and suspense and de-emphasizes the novel’s similarities between Guy and Bruno by transforming Guy into an innocent hero.