Strangers on a Train (novel)

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Strangers on a Train
First edition cover
AuthorPatricia Highsmith
Cover artistIrv Docktor
CountryUnited States
PublishedHarper & Brothers
Publication date
March 15, 1950[1]
Media typePrint

Strangers on a Train (1950) is a psychological thriller novel by Patricia Highsmith about two men whose lives become entangled after one of them proposes they "trade" murders.

It was adapted as a film in 1951 by director Alfred Hitchcock and again in 1969 by Robert Sparr. It has since been adapted in whole or in part for film and television several times. The novel was adapted for radio in 2004 by Craig Warner, and adapted for the stage in 2013 (also by Warner).

Plot summary[edit]

Architect Guy Haines wants to divorce his unfaithful wife, Miriam, in order to marry the woman he loves, Anne Faulkner. While on a train to see his wife, he meets Charles Anthony Bruno, a psychopathic playboy who proposes an idea to "exchange murders": Bruno will kill Miriam if Guy kills Bruno's father; neither of them will have a motive, and the police will have no reason to suspect either of them. Guy does not take Bruno seriously, but Bruno kills Guy's wife while Guy is away in Mexico.

Bruno informs Guy of his crime, but Guy hesitates to turn him in to the police. He realizes that Bruno could claim Guy's complicity in the planned exchange murders; however, the longer he remains silent, the more he implicates himself. This implicit guilt becomes stronger as in the coming months Bruno makes appearances demanding that Guy honor his part of the bargain. After Bruno starts writing anonymous letters to Guy's friends and colleagues, the pressure becomes too great, and Guy murders Bruno's father.

Subsequently, Guy is consumed by guilt, whereas Bruno seeks Guy's company as if nothing had happened. He makes an uninvited appearance at Guy's wedding, causing a scene. At the same time, a private detective who had worked for Bruno's father and who suspects Bruno of having arranged the murder of his father, establishes the connection between Bruno and Guy that began with the train ride, and suspects Bruno of Miriam's murder. Guy also becomes implicated due to his contradictions about the acquaintance with Bruno.

When Bruno falls overboard during a sailing cruise, Guy identifies so strongly with Bruno that he tries to rescue him under threat to his own life. Nevertheless, Bruno drowns, and the murder investigation is closed. Guy, however, is plagued by guilt, and confesses the double murder to Miriam's former lover. This man, however, does not condemn Guy, and instead dismisses Miriam, as well as women in general, while enjoying Guy's liquor. The detective who had been investigating the murders overhears Guy's confession, however, and confronts him. Guy turns himself over to the detective immediately.

Theatrical and radio adaptations[edit]

Playwright Craig Warner acquired the stage rights to Strangers on a Train in 1995, and wrote both theatrical and radio adaptations of the story. The radio version was recorded and broadcast by the BBC, and released on CD in May 2004.[2] The West End production of the play ran from November 2, 2013, to February 22, 2014, at the Gielgud Theatre and starred Jack Huston, Laurence Fox, Miranda Raison, Imogen Stubbs, Christian McKay, and MyAnna Buring. It was directed by Robert Allan Ackerman and its seven credited producers include Barbara Broccoli. A United Kingdom touring schedule was announced from January to March 2018.

Like the Hitchcock film, the Warner versions contain homosexual subtext.[3][better source needed] The radio version more closely follows the plot of the novel, although there are several differences in the denouement. Guy's eventual confession is to Anne, not to Miriam's lover. The detective succeeds in solving the original murder plot and confronts Bruno with the details, but declines to take further action because he believes that both men will spend the rest of their lives punishing themselves with guilt and fear. The devastated Bruno—with his security destroyed and realising that he will have no support or love from Guy—commits suicide in front of Guy by climbing onto a railway track where he is killed by an oncoming train. Anne persuades Guy to put the whole matter behind him and to resume his career in architecture.

Influence in popular culture[edit]

  • A 2009 episode of the ABC series Castle titled "Double Down" loosely follows the plot of the novel, which is mentioned in the episode.
  • A 2013 episode of the TNT series Rizzoli & Isles titled "Partners in Crime" loosely follows the plot of the novel, which is mentioned in the episode.
  • Murdoch Mysteries season 7 episode 12 "Unfinished Business" uses the same double unrelated murders plot.
  • J. D. Robb's book, Strangers in Death (2008) references both Highsmith's novel and Hitchcock's film as a homicide detective attempts to solve two seemingly unrelated murders.
  • The 1987 film Throw Momma from the Train provides a comedic twist on Strangers on a Train, with the Hitchcock film inspiring a copy-cat scheme by Danny DeVito's character.
  • Peter Swanson's 2020 novel Eight Perfect Murders discusses the book extensively and uses it as a key plot point.
  • A 2011 episode of the crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the episode "Tell-Tale Hearts" puts three strangers together to commit quadruple murder.
  • A 2004 episode of the police procedural Law & Order "C.O.D." involves two women who conspire to kill each other's husbands.
  • A 2018 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled "Revenge" uses the unrelated murders plot but with men committing each others rapes of women who spurned them. The Hitchcock film is mentioned by A.D.A. Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) who says, "You're going to have to find a judge who's seen Strangers on a Train."
  • The 2021 episode of Family Guy involves Stewie and his friend doing something similar.
  • The 2022 Netflix film Do Revenge takes inspiration from the concept of the novel.


  1. ^ "Books Published Today". The New York Times: 27. March 15, 1950.
  2. ^ Information on May 2004 BBC audio releases, retrieved November 18, 2008
  3. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (2004). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0-06-098827-2. p. 442

External links[edit]