Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Wheel Spins

The Wheel Spins, by Ethel White

This was another (temporary) freebie from Amazon, downloaded on the strength of its classification as mystery/suspense and the fact that it served as the basis for an early Alfred Hitchcock film (The Lady Vanishes).  My verdict: it's not the most fast-paced or challenging of mysteries, but it was certainly compelling enough that I wanted to keep reading to the end.  Particularly if you like the older style of mysteries and writing in general, I'd give it a rating of "good" and recommend it.

More specific observations:

  • It took longer than I expected, based on the blurb I read, for the action to move onto the train. 
  • The first description of the Misses Flood-Porter makes the fifties seem more like the sixties.  Maybe this is a sign of changing times.  This novel was written in the 1930s, and back then, someone in her fifties might well have looked ten years older than the average modern woman in her fifties appears.  Also, the Flood-Porters are described as smokers.  Which brings me to my next point...
  • Cigarettes!  At some point, I noticed that everyone was smoking.  It's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but these old books do have people smoking all the time.  Phew.  I'm glad I don't have to be cooped up in a confined space with clouds of cigarette smoke. 
  • In reference to my last blog entry, there are quite a few typos in this copy of the book.  For example:  "With a guilty glance at her husband's back she drew out of her hag a limp leather case."  Ew.  Please don't draw limp leather cases out of hags.  It's gross.  Even worse than the typos, though, are the very frequent formatting issues-- the large spaces between paragraphs.  Clearly, they aren't meant to there, as they usually interrupt chains of thought or conversations.  Most of the time, I could ignore them, but they are distracting, and sometimes lead you to believe you're coming up to a change of scene or other pause in the story, when you're not.
  • "'This is my large son,' she said, trying to hide her pride."  Is she really saying her son is "large"?  I thought he was still almost a baby... Is this a typo? 
  • Some of the characters seem to swap places in my level of approbation.  Iris goes from bad to good over the course of the novel, while some of the others (the vicar's wife, for instance) fall somewhat from favor. 
  • This book makes train travel seem much less appealing than books usually do.  The train is constantly described as crowded, lurching, and stuffy.  (Incidentally, I've never been on a real train-- nothing more than open-air transportation around an amusement park.)
  • I guessed fairly early into the story (by my own standards, at least) where Miss Froy was and how the guilty parties had effected her disappearance.  I didn't figure out why she was "disappeared", though.  (When I read the explanation, I felt I ought to have known that, too.)
  • Ethel White must have been a dog person. 
  • There's a lot of reference to national pride and trust in one's countrymen.  I guess it only makes sense, under the circumstances.  
  • The phrase "under the seal of the apple" is unfamiliar.  While getting the backstory on an adulterous couple, we read that "after a few meetings in London, under the seal of the apple, he swept her away with him on a passionate adventure."  Is this a reference to the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
  • There are plenty of times when you just want to shake the characters.  One example:  Iris talks about some of her suspicions right in front of a character whom she has every reason to suspect of being involved in the plot.  I guess she's under the impression that time is running out, but still!  That's just stupid.  
  • I was struck by how often the term "free agent" crops up in this novel.  (Also, there was reference to "the psychological moment"; that phrase feels very early-20th-century to me.) 
  • At one point, Hare reflects on the fact that "he could not give her that essential sock on the jaw" to break her out of... hysteria, I guess, though she wasn't screaming or flailing about or laughing crazily like characters usually are when they get that slap across the face.  Anyway, it made me wonder what it is about that "essential sock on the jaw".   Do people still believe that's an appropriate reaction to someone going into hysterics, or was that a thing of the past?  How did the notion originate?  It seems to me like it wouldn't do any real good-- just shock someone out of making a fuss for that moment-- but maybe I'm wrong.
  • I believe I counted at least three references to oil on the sea or other body of water.  Yick.  What's with all the oily water?
  • I thought the sleepwalking bit was odd.  I don't know how else it should have been resolved, but... It was strange.  
  • Miss Froy strikes me as a unique character-- the youthful, girlish, middle-aged spinster.  She and her family felt vaguely L.M. Montgomery-ish to me, and of course that's a compliment, coming from me.  
  • Now that I've read the book, I'm curious to see Hitchcock's adaptation.