Enter The Saint – Leslie Charteris

Just before Christmas I purchased a collection of ‘Saint’ books partly as a nostalgia feast. I had grown up a small boy watching Roger Moore as Simon Templar aka The Saint on television; a series that eventually had almost 120 episodes and ran from 1962 to 1969, so I only saw the later ones unless earlier episodes were repeated. It was through playing The Saint that Moore was offered the role of James Bond, a similar action hero, although the Saint ran his own ‘organisation’ and was more of a Robin Hood character being happy to use criminal means to get the results he wants. The Saint also pre-dates Bond by twenty five years with his first appearance in ‘The Saint Meets the Tiger’ dating from 1928 whilst ‘Casino Royale’ which marks Bond’s debut was published in 1953.

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The collection I bought was a bit of a bargain at £20 plus postage for thirty books, half of which were hardbacks (only two with dust wrappers) and most printed in the 1950’s. In later years Charteris was dismissive about Meets the Tiger and regarded Enter The Saint as the first ‘proper’ Saint book; an attitude that was followed in the most recent reprint of the titles in 2013/4 by Mulholland which left out Meets the Tiger completely so that is why I am starting my reading of the books with this one. My copy is the 1957 hardback from Charteris’s long time British publisher Hodder and Stoughton, it’s missing its wrapper and has clearly been well read in the sixty years since it was printed so looks nothing like the edition I have used to illustrate this article as it has plain blue board covers (not very photogenic). The picture is actually a beautiful first edition copy currently for sale by Lucius Books in York for £2940, so not a copy I’ll be purchasing any time soon but lovely to see. Below is the title page from my copy featuring the calling card of the Saint.

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In total there were fifty Saint books printed in the UK during Charteris’s lifetime although only the first thirty six were written by him, after that numerous other authors (including science fiction writer Harry Harrison) actually wrote the books, with Charteris mainly reducing his role to editor although his name continued to be the main (and sometimes only) one on the cover. All but five of the ones I got last year are from the first thirty six. Most of the books are collections of novellas or short stories and Enter the Saint is a good example consisting of three novellas.

I – The Man who Was Clever – 67 pages

MR “SNAKE” GANNING was neither a great criminal nor a pleasant character, but he is interesting because he was the first victim of the organisation led by the man known as the Saint, which was destined in the course of a few months to spread terror through the underworld of London – that ruthless association of reckless young men, brilliantly led, who worked on the side of the law and who were yet outside the law.

So begins the first tale in this book and quite an introduction it is and within three pages Snake had duly become that first victim. This however was just a minor diversion for the Saint from the main events of this story. He is working to disrupt a cocaine smuggling business run by a crooked gambling club owner and whilst at it help out a young man who had become a victim of their illegal casino to the tune of thousands of pounds.  This he duly achieves with a mixture of guile and outright violence whichever is appropriate at the time. The Saint is a highly accomplished and powerful fighter but not above throwing a chair to improve the odds when throwing a punch is out of range.

II – The Policeman with Wings – 57 pages

The second story provides more of a leading role for one of Templar’s ‘associates’, Roger Conway, part time manager of the Golden Eagle Hotel in St. Marychurch near Torquay in Devon. That he is also a part time member of the Saint’s organisation is not so well known. Roger had met a young lady in Torquay who told him an odd tale about her uncle. He had recently been offered a lot of money for his house and when he turned it down a shot had been fired at him in the garden and the brakes of his car tampered with. He had been driven off by a policeman a few days ago, ostensibly to give a statement, but policeman, car and uncle had vanished and the police had confirmed that none of their officers had visited him to do any such thing. Why does somebody want the house so much and is the young lady safe now that she is the only person living there? Cue dramatic car chases, kidnapping, diamonds and the appearance of a very nasty piece of work known as Spider, for such a short novella it certainly packs a lot in.

III – The Lawless Lady – 59 pages

This story features another of the Saint’s lieutenants, in this case Dicky Tremayne, and also gives some idea as to the long term planning that the Saint was willing to use to put a criminal out of business whilst at the same time obtaining a significant sum for charity less his 10% for ‘professional fees’. This operation is something that Dicky has been working on for a year and we join the action just a few days before the main crime is to be committed. The plot that Tremayne and Templar are to counter is quite ingenious; the gang led by Audrey Perowne has set up a fake private cruise for a group of wealthy businessmen, Dicky has been working for the gang across Europe gathering potential victims. Their plan is to take the men and their wives, who would of course all be looking to outdo one another with the level of jewellery on display whilst the men are ready to spend big in Marseilles and Monte Carlo part way through the trip and then rob and dump them somewhere remote. Back in 1930 this may well have been a valid option but nowadays with modern communication methods this really has dated badly. Nevertheless can Dicky maintain his cover within the gang and how will the Saint turn the tables? It’s all very exciting…

Charteris himself was an interesting character, born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin in 1907 in Singapore (then a British colony) he was educated at a private school in the north of England and went to Kings College Cambridge but left after a year when he started to get published. In 1926 he changed his surname by deed-poll to Charteris. and in 1932 he moved to America, or at least tried to, but being half Chinese he was blocked from residency by the Oriental Exclusion Act so had to keep leaving when his six month visa expired all this whilst working on films and radio series about The Saint. At the end of 1942 a law was passed in the US specifically so that Charteris and his daughter Patricia could live in America and in 1946 he became an American citizen. Near the end of his life he moved back to England with his fourth wife and died aged 85 in 1993.

I’m going to continue working my way through the other books I bought at the same time as the year goes on although unless one strikes me as particularly interesting I expect this will be the only time I write about The Saint on this blog. Seek him out if you like uncomplicated thrillers now that he is available again in quantity for the first time since the mid 1980’s although do bear in mind that the early books are very much of their time and feel rather dated now. Charteris was himself well aware of this and kept intending to do rewrites but in the end decided to leave them as period pieces.

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