The Wheel Spins

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The Wheel Spins, 1st edition, Collins Crime Club, London, 1936.

The Wheel Spins (a.k.a. The Lady Vanishes) is a 1936 mystery novel by British writer Ethel Lina White.[1]


Iris Carr, a young English society woman, is staying at a small hotel in ‘a remote corner of Europe’. Her friends leave on the train to Trieste. Iris is glad to be alone, but then starts to miss them. The remaining guests are also glad to see the back of them, due to their noisy ways and monopolising of the hotel facilities. After going for a long walk and getting lost in the local mountains, Iris decides to leave also, but waiting at the railway station, she is struck or hit on the back of the head and loses consciousness. She wakes up in the waiting room, but as she can’t speak the local language, no-one can tell her what happened. She concludes that it must have been sunstroke, but manages to get on the crowded train. She finds herself in a compartment with only one English speaker, Miss Winifred Froy.

Miss Froy explains that she was a teacher of the children of a local aristocrat. His widow, the Baroness, is also a passenger in the compartment. Fellow hotel guests, the Reverend and Mrs Barnes and the Misses Flood-Porter are also aboard the train. She spies a heavily bandaged body in another compartment, supervised by a sinister-looking doctor apparently taking an accident victim to hospital in Trieste.

Miss Froy confides that she has most recently been teacher to the children of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’, understood to be part of a nascent Communist faction. Iris and Miss Froy lunch in the restaurant car and on returning, Iris takes tablets for her headache. When she awakens, Miss Froy is not there.

All her fellow passengers deny having seen Miss Froy. Iris eventually finds two Englishmen who speak the local language; Max Hare, a young engineer and his travelling companion, 'the Professor'. All the passengers still deny Miss Froy’s existence. A lady dressed identically to Miss Froy reappears, but it isn’t her – it’s Frau Kummer. The Flood-Porters and the Barnes have their own reasons for wanting to get back to England without delay and continue to deny Miss Froy’s existence. The 'Todhunters', ostensibly honeymooners but actually an adulterous couple, remain in their private compartment and play no part in the events. Iris begins to believe that she has been hallucinating.

The doctor convinces Max to surreptitiously administer a sleeping-draught to Iris; as it takes effect, she summons the strength to enter the next compartment and rip off the bandages from the 'victim'. It is indeed Miss Froy.

Iris spends the rest of the journey through Italy and France in semi-consciousness. Only at Victoria station in London, does Max explain what happened. Miss Froy innocently witnessed something without realising its signnificance. The doctor and his assistants have been arrested, but he feels that the Baroness will use her influence to hush up the matter.

Miss Froy returns home, having enjoyed her adventure, and Iris decides that she and Max will make his next trip ‘together’.


The novel was originally published in 1936 and is one of the few novels by White which are still in print today. It is available to read on Project Gutenberg Australia.[2]


The book has been adapted for the screen several times. It has also been made into an audiobook.

  • The Lady Vanishes (2018 stage play) written by Derek Webb


  1. ^ Ethel Lina White. "The Lady Vanishes". Goodreads.
  2. ^ "The Wheel Spins".