Which I Never, by L.A.G. Strong, seems like a very suitable candidate for inclusion in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books. It was almost totally forgotten way back in 1980, when I first chanced upon it, when Collins Crime Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee by reprinting a dozen Crime Club titles from the past. The books were chosen by Julian Symons and he provided a short but valuable introduction to each volume.
First published in 1950, Which I Never was the fourth of Strong’s five crime novels by Leonard Arthur George Strong. On the basis of Symons’ account, he seems like a curious fellow. Born in 1896, he suffered in youth from a mysterious back illness which ‘brought out a macabre strain in his personality One of his doctors was so shocked by the boy’s grotesque drawings that he ordered pens and paper to be taken away from him.’
But he went to Oxford, took a First, and became a teacher, whilst writing extensively in a range of fields, including poetry, criticism and short stories. In 1938 he became a director of the publishes Methuen, before dying suddenly twenty years later. Symons says his crime stories ‘are natural products of his interest in all kinds of literary work’. Four of his novels feature Ellis McKay, ‘perhaps the only Scotland Yard Chief Inspector to have been a composer, and certainly one of the more likeable detectives of the period.’
I’ve read three of the McKay books and agree with Symons that this is the best. The West Country setting is nicely evoked, and the plot kicks off with the unexplained disappearance of a girl who has become entitled to a music collection coveted by a man called Nosworthy. Symons is right when he refers to ‘the scattiness of the plot’, and some of the dialogue, though light and not over-done, is a bit too facetious for my taste. But it’s a pleasant story, if scarcely in the unputdownable category. Strong was a talented writer, despite the fact that he is now pretty much forgotten, and Which I Never remains an amiable read.