On a train journey to meet up with his flirtatious wife in the hope of her agreeing to a divorce, Guy Haines falls into conversation with another passenger, Charles Bruno. Bruno is an odd man whose interest in Guy unearths deep-seated uneasiness about the task Guy hopes to accomplish. Bruno, however, has an idea that could free Guy from his difficult situation, leaving him available to marry the lovely Anne. Trouble is, it involves murder, and Bruno has conditions of his own…
This classic tale inspired generations of crime and thriller writers, and though it certainly isn’t one of my favourite reads, Highsmith had some great ideas and an unusually modern attitude for writers at that time, most notably the underlying homoerotic tension that runs through the narrative. Like most folks, I’ve seen the film version of this many times and although I knew it was different to the book, it was interesting to see how Hitchcock’s version differed. In the book, both the main characters are pretty unlikeable and while I had some sympathy for Guy, he does come over as a bit pathetic at times. Anne also seemed to put up with an awful lot when anyone else would have walked away. Even so, while Guy’s constant moaning about his situation got a bit tiresome, for the most part the story held my interest. Also, the way author ramps up the tension during the final furlong was worth waiting for.
Having said that, those niggly little things that often mar my enjoyment of books written during this time period (it was first published in 1950), the proliferation of exclamation marks and some truly clunky phrases, like ‘he said boredly’ and ‘he smiled pluckily’ don’t help the flow.