Ethel Lina White was one of the best-known crime writers in Britain and the USA during the 1930s and 40s. One of her most famous books, The Wheel Spins, was adapted as the acclaimed 1938 Hitchcock film The Lady Vanishes.
Ethel Lina White was born in Monmouthshire, England, in 1876. She was employed for some years by the government at the Ministry of Pensions in London and began writing fiction in the 1920s, making her debut with the mainstream novel The Wish-Bone (1927). After two more mainstream novels, she moved into the thriller and mystery genres, where her popularity flourished for the next 14 years.
In 1936, she published The Wheel Spins, which was licensed by Gaumont British studios, to be made into a movie by director Roy William Neill, under the title Lost Lady. A disastrous attempt at shooting location footage in Central Europe, however, led to a shelving of the project for a year, at which time it fell into the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. The director was normally loathe to take on projects that had already been in the hands of others, but the story was too tempting. The result was The Lady Vanishes (1938), which is usually regarded as the pinnacle of Hitchcock's British period.
White wrote eight more thrillers, ending with They See in Darkness (1944), which was published in the year of her death, at age 68. There was a flurry of film activity involving her books around the time of her death. Her 1942 novel Midnight House (aka Her Heart in Her Throat) was picked up by Paramount Pictures - the resulting film was titled The Unseen (1945), based on a screenplay co-authored by Raymond Chandler.
In recent years a revival a revival of Ethel Lina White’s work is beginning to take place. A stage adaptation of The Lady Vanishes toured Britain from March to July 2001, as well as a recent abridged reading of the same story on BBC Radio 4 has introduced her to a new audience. Slowly White is beginning to re-establish her position amongst some of the greatest crime writers of the last century.