Swapping crimes - Strangers on a Train

Rich Westwood, blogging as Past Offences, (and who guest-blogged for us here) invited Clothes in Books to do a guest review of Strangers on a Train – in keeping with the concept of the book. So you can see that review at his excellent blog, and read more about the clothes in the book below…

the book:

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

published 1950    chapter 40

[Architect Guy has just left an important business meeting]

Guy nodded a greeting to a smiling foreman. He detected the smallest glow of self-esteem. Or maybe it was nothing but his new suit, he thought, only the third suit in his life he had ever had made for him. Anne had chosen the grey-blue glen plaid material. Anne had chosen the tomato-coloured woollen tie this morning to go with it, an old tie but one that he liked….

[His good mood is challenged by a phonecall from Bruno, discussing the trouble they are in]

Momentarily, as he came out into the sunlight, he was conscious again of the new suit, and he clenched his fist in frustrated anger with himself… Guy went over the fabrication Bruno had just given him as if it were something that didn’t belong to him, as if it were a swatch of material he indifferently considered for a suit, he thought. No, there were no holes in it, but it wouldn’t necessarily wear…

Anne protected him. His work protected him. The new suit, the stupid new suit. He felt suddenly inadequate and dull-witted, helpless. Death had insinuated itself into his brain…

Guy sipped his martini thoughtfully, holding the surface perfectly steady.

observations: Well Highsmith’s not frightened to put a serious meaning on a slight framework is she? From the new suit to death on the brain in a handful of words. And the sentence about the martini, a chapter ending, is terrific, although can you really drink anything while holding it steady?

The third custom-made suit is another Highsmith-ian detail. Is it meant to show his exact social position? He is very obviously going up in the world by marrying Anne, but not that far – most writers would surely have made it his first good suit.

It can be hard to get to grips with Highsmith, she’s a bit of a take-it-or-leave-it writer. A suitable jubilee anecdote: it is alleged that the Queen Elizabeth would be supplied with a bagful of detective stories every year before she went on holiday, and that one year the edict came through - No more Highsmith. Ever. It’s not often that we have (or would want) anything in common with Royalty, but maybe this is the time. PH was a very talented writer, had amazing abilities, but her characters and situations are very gloomy, there are no jokes.

Links up with: Georgie gets a new suit in this
Lucia book, and the men are dressing up for a wedding here.

The handsome chap in the plaid suit is a young Frank Sinatra: the photo is from the fabulous Gottlieb collection of jazz pictures at the
Library of Congress.