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Books and Movies Inspired by Strangers on a Train: Background information when reading The Favor

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The Favor

A Novel

by Nora Murphy

The Favor by Nora Murphy X
The Favor by Nora Murphy
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Books and Movies Inspired by Strangers on a Train

This article relates to The Favor

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Strangers on a Train film posterIf the premise of Nora Murphy's The Favor — two unconnected strangers conduct revenge by proxy in what should be a perfect crime — sounds familiar, that might be because of its parallels to the plot of a classic book and film.

Strangers on a Train might be best known as a 1951 noir film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but its screenplay (co-written by Raymond Chandler) was based on a 1950 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. In both the book and the film, two men strike up a conversation on a train trip, bonding over the difficulties (especially the difficult people) in one another's lives.

In what seems at first to be a thought experiment, one of the men suggests that if each killed off the source of the other's frustration (in one case, the man's wife, in the other, his father), they could be rid of their nemeses through no fault of their own, and the murders could never be traced back to their perpetrators. The two men part, but when one man's wife is, in fact, murdered, he realizes that the stakes of that train ride have escalated to a terrifying degree — is he now on the hook to uphold his end of the bargain? The original book and the film have different conclusions (no spoilers here!), but both offer plenty of suspense and insight into the human psyche and the nature of violence.

Nora Murphy's novel is hardly the first to draw partial inspiration from this tantalizing premise. In Lisa Unger's 2020 novel Confessions on the 7:45, called "diabolically clever" by Publishers Weekly, two women confide in one another — perhaps inadvisably — while on a stalled commuter train. One woman confesses she's having an affair with her boss; the other admits she suspects her husband of sleeping with their nanny. Unger's novel cleverly subverts readers' expectations — even if they're familiar with Hitchcock or Highsmith's antecedents.

Peter Swanson's 2020 thriller Eight Perfect Murders is also partially inspired by Strangers on a Train. In this case, it's one of the "perfect murders" referenced in the novel's title, classic fictional murders that are outlined in an old blog post written by the owner of a mystery bookstore. It seems harmless enough — until it appears that a serial killer is using the post as a checklist for what might be the perfect murder spree.

If all this sounds awfully dark, consider the zany 1987 comedy film Throw Momma from the Train, a slapstick version of the classic noir starring Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal. No matter what angle you choose, it's undeniable that Patricia Highsmith hit on a provocative premise, one that's still intriguing readers, viewers and writers more than 70 years later.

Strangers on a Train film poster, courtesy of IMDB

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Favor. It originally ran in June 2022 and has been updated for the May 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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