Friday, 9 March 2012

Forgotten Book - Some Must Watch

Ethel Lina White is a writer I've mentioned a few times on this blog. She's remembered today mainly as the author of the book on which Hitchcock's great film The Lady Vanishes was based, but in the Golden Age, she specialised in "woman in jeopardy" stories with great success. Little is known about her, though, apart from a few basic details on the internet, and if anyone knows more about her life, and her approach to crime fiction, do get in touch.

Some Must Watch is one of her most famous stories, and again it was turned into a popular film, Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase. The book first came out in 1933, and it has now been republished by Arcturus Crime Classics. In fact, it's due out next week - along with titles by Erle Stanley Gardner, Anthony Berkeely, and others - including me. I'm flattered and thrilled to find All the Lonely People in such company.

I enjoyed the story, even though it's really a tale of suspense, rather than actual detection. The pert and likeable Helen, is recruited as a "lady-help" to a strange family who live on the Welsh borders. Unfortunately, a deranged serial killer is on the loose, and his first four victims have all been single young working women. Will Helen be next?

White does a very good job at building the tension. Inevitably, the story-line is dated, and some of the plot elements and characters (the invalid who may not be an invalid, the sinister nurse, the weird professor, the vampish woman) became over-used in the Golden Age and may thus be seen as cliched. But White writes with a great deal of skill, in my opinion, and she also comes up with a unique and extraordinary murder motive into the bargain. A marvellous period piece.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Saw the movie but never heard about the book before. Thanks!

The Passing Tramp said...

Entertaining book and film. Even better, arguably, is The Unlocked Window (I think that's the title), a short story splendidly filmed by Hitchcock in the last season of his television show.

Some of her suspense novels are better than others, but I do find it surprising that she has been taken up more in these times.

J F Norris said...

I like the The Spiral Staricase. Very creepy at times. Ethel Barrymore is a hoot and Dorothy McGuire does a fine job as the woman in peril. Saw it when I was a youngster and it's stayed with me for decades.

THE THIRD EYE is neat little Gothic chiller, one of the few of White's books I made it all the way through. I couldn't finish WHILE SHE SLEEPS. It had an insipid heroine who tries to be like the kind of wisecracking dame you find in an American hardboiled book, but it just never worked for me.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for your comments. Curt, John, you have given me more stories to search for!

Peggy Ann said...

'Some Must Watch' is on my list for the vintage mystery challenge I signed up for! This is the first I've seen posted about it. I'm looking forward to it! Oh and Martin my library has your books so I am going over to get one!

Cherylyn said...

Would The Unlocked Window be the Hitchcock episode about the invalid being cared for in his home by two professional nurses, one of whom is not a nurse? If so, I have to say that show was without doubt the eeriest Thing I've ever watched, on television or at the movies. I was an impressionable teen at the time and I was almost afraid to go to bed that night!