My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books is the final novel by L.A.G. Strong, Treason in the Egg, published in 1958.
If John Rhode's Vegetable Duck is the oddest title for a detective novel that I know, Treason in the Egg runs it close. Anhd it is not just the title that is a bit out of the ordinary. The novel is described on the title page as ‘a further police diversion’ and the author refers to it in the dedication as ‘this mad offering’. When Ellis McKay, Strong's regular Scotland Yard detective, explains the solution to the mystery to a female admirer, she describes it as ‘a mad rigmarole’. So we may be sure that Strong himself regarded this as a rather eccentric story – and he was right.
Not for the first time, McKay ventures out to the west country and at the start of the book calls at the office of his old chum, Inspector Bradstreet, who is being troubled by a dope-smuggling scare. The reason for McKay’s visit is, however, nothing to do with police work. He is, in his spare time, an accomplished musician and he has been persuaded to speak at a course on Modern Art conducted at nearby Armada House, as a last minute replacement for a lecturer who has been taken ill. Following his arrival at Armada House, McKay finds himself embroiled in a sequence of strange events, including the showing of a bizarre arty film, the highlight of which is a scene featuring an image of an enormous egg. What follows tested my credulity, however.
Strong was a well-regarded novelist - and poet - in his day, although his reputation has not lasted, which is a shame. Sadly, he died suddenly in the year this book first came out. His light-hearted and economical prose style remains agreeable to read, and in McKay and Bradstreet he created a couple of amiable fellows, but his plotting skills were modest. Two other poets who became crime writers and were being published in the Collins Crime Club at the same time, Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day Lewis, an old friend of Strong’s) and Julian Symons, are giants of the genre by comparison. This book certainly has curiosity value, but the whodunit aspect of the story barely registers.