Regular readers of this blog will have gathered that in the past year, I've developed a real enthusiasm for the work of the American writer Helen McCloy. My Forgotten Book for today is another of hers, dating back to 1954, and called He Never Came Back (it is also known as Unfinished Crime.) As ever, it is very readable.
In many ways, the book is a thriller, rather than a conventional whodunit. It features a number of the devices that one associates with the thriller form, including a hunt for an immensely valuable jewel, which comes from a small country in the Far East. There is even a mysterious, tattooed Oriental character who is in pursuit of the jewel. Shades of The Moonstone!
More importantly, the book has relentless pace. It's quite short, but the action is non-stop, and I wonder if McCloy was influenced by her husband, Brett Halliday, in shifting from the classic style of her earlier books to this kind of story. Whatever the reason, she did it well.
The story begins with a man called Moxon becoming aware that he is being followed. He has stolen the jewel, and hides it in a cheap store. But then he is murdered. The next chapter begins with a short-sighted young woman meeting a male acquaintance in the shop where she takes a fancy to the jewel and buys it. They go off together for a cup of coffee - but then, inexplicably, the man disappears. Later, when he turns up again - he is a different person. But of course, nobody believes the girl when she says the chap is an impostor. The girl is terrified of elevators. So you can guess where the villain traps her...
This brief summary does not do justice to a book with countless changes of direction. In the hands of another writer, the story might be quite trashy, but McCloy was a gifted story-teller, and she contrives a clever and gripping tale, despite a few almost unavoidable improbabilities. An entertaining mystery.