The Saint Meets his Match (originally published in 1931 as She Was a Lady) is fairly typical of Leslie Charteris’s early Saint novels. In other words it’s a great deal of fun.
Simon Templar gets mixed up with the Angels of Doom, a criminal gang whose activities are mostly concentrated on making the police look foolish. The gang is led by a beautiful, glamorous, ruthless and deadly young woman named Jill Trelawny. She has a major grudge against the police - her father as an Assistant Commissioner who was dismissed for corruption but she has always believed in his innocence.
This time Simon Templar, one-time notorious criminal, is not just working with the police, He’s actually joined the police force. At least on a temporary basis. His old nemesis Chief Inspector Teal is not entirely convinced that The Saint is not still playing some underhand game of his own. And in fact Templar is soon involved far more closely with the leader of the Angels of Doom than is perhaps quite proper for a member of the Metropolitan Police. Chief Inspector Teal is both right and wrong about his old enemy’s motives, but he is right in his assumption that The Saint is not going to fit comfortably into his new job.
Of course many things turn out not to have been what they seemed, and there are plenty of entertaining plot twists.
The Saint of Charteris’s books is more morally ambiguous and more interesting than the various TV and movie versions of the character. The charm and the endless succession of witticisms are still there though. Templar is so heroic and so clever that he’s in danger of becoming annoying but that never happen. There’s enough self-mockery in the character to avoid that anger, and Charteris’s touch is light enough that we don’t really mind. And there’s an edge of ruthlessness and opportunism to the character that is missing from the TV and movie incarnations that nicely counter-balances his virtues.
The tone of this novel is extremely playful, with Templar constantly drawing attention to his role as a story-book hero, and pointing out the ways in which his behaviour differs from what you’d expect from a hero of fiction.
A polished and sophisticated crime thriller with a nicely tongue-in-cheek approach, not to be taken seriously but perfect escapist entertainment.