May 16

A Classic Mystery Thriller: The Lady Vanishes

Truth be told, I had never heard of Ethel Lina White until a couple of weeks ago. As usual, my husband was on a book-buying spree and this one was delivered in my hands by the good folks at Amazon. The blurb was so enticing that I started reading the book immediately.

What will you do if your travelling companion suddenly disappeared on a moving train? To make matters worse, all the other passengers on the train uphold that they haven’t seen her at all. In fact, some of them attest that there was no such person with you. On top of that, you have just suffered a head injury. So, could it be possible that you dreamt of the companion? Did you hallucinate? Or did she really exist? It was such a predicament that stared at the young and beautiful English tourist, Iris Carr, when she travelled alone on a train in Europe. Luckily, a young musicologist helps her and the two search the train for clues to the old woman’s disappearance.

Blame it on that criminal mind of mine, that helps me pen crime thrillers, but I guessed what happened to the lady some fifty pages before the book was over. Still, this was not a deterrent in enjoying the book. Personally, I believe the capacity of a thriller to hold the interest of the reader shouldn’t subsist only on the mystery quotient of plot but should also have other elements, like intriguing characters, surprising plot-twists and an engaging manner of storytelling, that keeps you turning the pages even if you have ‘guessed’ what must have happened.

This was true with Ethel’s book. Every character who travelled on that train had been sketched out beautifully. We understand the thoughts and motivations of even the minor characters. This must have been what tempted Alfred Hitchcock to direct the movie, ‘The Lady Vanishes’, which went on to become a major movie classic. In fact, when the book was published in 1936, it was titled as ‘The Wheel Spins’. ‘The Lady Vanishes’ is the Hitchcock title for the film that was released in 1938.

As soon as I completed the book, I was yearning to watch the movie. It was a lucky coincidence that I had just taken a membership to the British Council’s Online Digital library. Unlike Amazon Prime and Netflix, the movie library of the British Council has a wide collection of major movie classics. ‘The Lady Vanishes’ was also a part of this collection.

I watched the movie soon after a completed the book. While the basic plotline of the movie is consistent with that of the novel, there are some major changes in the characters, an addition of a love interest, a completely different motivation for the crime and a very ‘filmy’ climax. Needless to say, I loved the book much more than the movie. Still, I’m sure I would have loved the film if I had watched it without reading the book. In fact, many online reviews mentioned that the movie was better than the book.

I would strongly recommend the book and the movie to mystery fans. You are sure to enjoy them both if you give at least a week’s gap between them.

Have you read this book? Or watched this movie?


book review

About the author

Welcome! I write for adults and children. More importantly, I love to write for writers. This is where I share everything I know about this mysterious process of writing.

Archana Sarat

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