The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White – Review
By Sarah Morgan
Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margaret Allingham… the Golden Age of crime fiction is packed full of female writers. But while some of their names have lived on, others have fallen by the wayside somewhat. In fact, if Ethel Lina White hadn’t had a book turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s likely she’d now be completely forgotten.–
Born in Abergavenny in Wales in 1876, she was as popular as the aforementioned authors in her day, and if The Wheel Spins is anything to go by, should still be as well known.
It was this book, originally published in 1936, that was turned into The Lady Vanishes two years later. The film remains one of Hitchcock’s best-loved. A landmark in his British period before his decision to decamp to Hollywood later in the same decade. Indeed, it was the movie’s success that prompted super-producer David O’Selznick to offer the director a contract.
“Twists and turns aplenty”
If you’re a fan of the cinematic version, then the book – which has been republished by the British Library’s fabulous Crime Classics range – will be of the utmost interest. It’s not a straight adaptation. And, I won’t go into the various ways in which White’s take on the tale differs to Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat’s screenplay. One of the joys of reading the book is finding those out for yourself.
It’s easy to see why Hitchcock was attracted by the story, however. At its centre is a pretty if slightly frivolous young woman, Iris, who reluctantly befriends an English lady while travelling home by train from a summer break somewhere in Europe. When the lady goes missing, Iris struggles to convince anyone that she ever existed. Nevertheless, she refuses to succumb to gaslighting and becomes obsessed with locating the missing woman. Despite the danger her determination puts her in.
There are twists and turns aplenty throughout, with possible murder and certainly intrigue around every corner. Just the kind of things the Master of Suspense loved.
If they also float your boat, you’ll love The Wheel Spins. Its author may currently be largely unknown. But here’s hoping the republishing of her most famous novel generates interest in more of her work, because she deserves to be rediscovered.
‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White is published by the British Library.