I'm not sure how he achieves it, but the novel has a very sinister tone — the sense that something's lurking in an alleyway or canal. Venice is labyrinthine and mysterious.
McEwan in my view excels at depicting relationships in all their nuance; what little is spoken between characters speaks volumes. Although the details of the story may seems far-fetched, the characters are very real.
And the title tantalizes. I'm still wondering who is seeking comfort from whom, who are the real strangers in this story?
She appeared greedy for the fact of conversation rather than its content; she inclined her head towards him, as though bathing her face in the flow of his speech.I like this review in New York Times that manages to tell you everything about the novel without actually spoiling any of it, and still make you want to read it. "No reader will begin The Comfort of Strangers and fail to finish it; a black magician is at work."
The movie also is worth watching. It has a terrific cast. And scripted by Harold Pinter, it's mostly true to the novel.