The Wheel Spins and How!

… he could have no idea of the hell of fear into which he plunged her. She was white to the lips as she shrank into the corner of the carriage. She was afraid of him – afraid of everyone in the train. Even Hare seemed to have entered into a conspiracy against her. The whole world appeared roped into a league that threatened her sanity.
The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
What will we do without sisters?! My elder sister, Nitu didi, was coming over to India to attend a wedding. And, just a few days before she has to catch her flight, I ask her to bring me a book that has long been on my wishlist: Ethel Lina’s White The Wheel Spins (aka The Lady Vanishes). And putting aside all the packing and other arrangements to be made before the journey, Nitu didi goes hunting in the libraries for it! Thank God for didis. I am indeed blessed.

Now about the book…. The story, set sometime in the tense thirties, is about a young woman, Iris Carr, who has been holidaying in Germany. Feeling out of sorts – separated from her companions and alienated from the other passengers – she strikes up an acquaintance, on her return journey, with another English woman,  who introduces herself as Miss Froy. They get into a conversation but soon Iris decides to take a sedative as she is quite feverish and has suffered a sunstroke. When she wakes up, the seat opposite her is empty and the other people in the carriage deny ever having another woman in the midst. As the train rushes on, Iris has to prove the existence of Miss Froy to others. But was there a Miss Froy or was she just a figment of Iris’ feverish imagination? Why would anyone try to do away with a middle-aged harmless governess? Is the world in cahoots against Iris or this is just a ploy of hers to gain attention. White spins a gripping tale that has its moments of real horror as when this story is narrated to Iris:

A certain woman had been certified as insane, but owing to a blunder the ambulance went to the wrong house and forcibly took away an Englishwoman, who did not understand a word of the language, or of her destination. In her indignation and horror at finding herself in a private asylum, she became so vehement and violent that she was kept at first, under the influence of drugs.

When the mistake was found out, the doctor – who was a most unscrupulous character, was afraid to admit it. At the time he was in financial difficulties, and he feared it might ruin his reputation. So he planned to detain the Englishwoman until he could release her as officially cured.

“But she couldn’t know she wasn’t in for life,” explained Miss Froy, working up the agony. “The horror of it would probably have driven her really insane, only a nurse exposed the doctor’s plot, out of revenge…But can you imagine the awful position of that poor Englishwoman? Trapped, with no one to make inquiries about her, or even to know she had disappeared, for she was merely a friendless foreigner, staying a night here and night there, at some Pension. She didn’t understand a word – she couldn’t really explain – “

“Please stop,” broke in Iris. “I can imagine it all. Vividly….”

The book has a wonderful cast of supporting characters – the professor, his young acquaintance, the honeymooning couple, the parson and his wife, the baroness, the blonde beauty…all have a role to play in this journey.

I love mysteries set in trains and this – with its frantic rhythm – was most enjoyable.


First Line: The day before the disaster, Iris Carr had her first premonition of danger.

Title: The Wheel Spins (The Lady Vanishes)

Author: Ethel Lina White

Publication Details: NY: ibooks, 2004

Pages: 245

First Published: 1936

Trivia: The book was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in


Being out of print, the book is not so easily available. Nitu didi borrowed and brought it for me from Mississauga Library System. [39079036048345]


Book(s) with similar theme(s)

Murder on the Orient Express

Submitted for the following challenges:


Borrowed Books

Mystery and Suspense

Vintage Mystery

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