One of the many pleasures of editing anthologies for the British Library has been the chance to resurrect some splendid but long-neglected short stories, and thereby introduce present day readers to some writers who really deserve to be remembered. Among them is Ethel Lina White, whose "women in jeopardy" novels were very successful in the Thirties. She was also a fine short story writer and a number of Crime Classic readers have told me how pleased they have been to discover her work.
I've just read the novel she published after The Wheel Spins, which Hitchcock turned into The Lady Vanishes. The Third Eye came out in 1937, and my copy is a cheap American paperback with a back cover blurb that not only tells the whole story but gets much of it wrong. Very odd. But the story is, if you like this type of writing, a strong one.
She was good at ringing changes on a basic formula. So here we have, as usual, a likeable and resourceful young woman who doesn't have much money, who - through no fault of her own - becomes a potential murder victim. Caroline takes a job at a public school, whose owner is mysteriously dominated by the very unpleasant matron. When Caroline discovers that the matron is a homicidal maniac, her own life is put at risk.
But the real danger comes from the matron's half-sister, who is equally crazy. She is called Miss Bat, and she lives in - where else? - Bat House. Why on earth any young woman who knows her life is in danger would, on a foggy night, accept hospitality from a Miss Bat of Bat House is beyond me, but there you go. This type of story requires suspension of disbelief aplenty, but the Gothic atmosphere is nicely done, and White shows her customary expertise in the art of building tension.