Monday, October 6, 2014

Leslie Charteris’s Featuring the Saint

Featuring the Saint, published in 1931, was one of Leslie Charteris’s early books about his famous hero Simon Templar, the Saint. It is a collection of three novellas. Charteris could write short stories and novels quite successfully but he was particularly fond of the novella, a form that suited his talents to perfection.

The first of the novellas is The Logical Adventure, in which the Saint takes on impresario and crook Mr Francis Lemuel. His first step is to secure employment as Lemuel’s private pilot, an occupation which will afford the Saint ample opportunities to display his daredevil qualities. He has discovered that Lemuel is involved in large-scale cocaine smuggling. The Saint has no particular problems with bending the law a little himself but drugs and destroying people’s lives are another matter. Even in the days when he was on the wrong side of the law he had always been a very moral sort of outlaw. This adventure promises the opportunity to bring an evil man to justice and quite likely enrich himself somewhat as well, and that’s the kind of adventure he’s most fond of.

This affair ends up being rather more serious than he’d anticipated and it appears that murder may be the only way to resolve it. Well, there are times when murder can be a public service. The trick of course is not to end up getting murdered oneself. There may also be some difficulties with his old friend Chief Inspector Teal, but those difficulties are unlikely to be insurmountable.

The Wonderful War sees Simon Templar in a different role, as a revolutionary in Central America. These were, as he explains, the happy pre-Castro days when revolution was more of a sport than anything else. The Republic of Pasala has, oddly enough, never had a revolution. And Simon has never actually organised a revolution. But really, how difficult can such things be? He only has a few weeks to spare but that should be ample time. The army of Pasala, comprising 500 enlisted men commanded by no fewer than seventeen generals, is unlikely to be a major problem. Simon will discover that organising a revolution is every bit as much fun as he’d expected it to be, and only slightly more difficult. And it’s not as if he has to do it all himself. He has his old friend Archibald Sheridan to help him and they can also rely on invaluable assistance from a drunken Irishman named Kelly.

Simon is not fomenting revolution for his own entertainment (although he will derive a great deal of amusement from the undertaking) - there is a lady whose fortune has been stolen from her and Simon Templar is not the man to ignore a lady in distress.

The Man Who Could Not Die pits the Saint against Miles Hallin, a sportsman, adventurer and entrepreneur (of the shady variety of course). Hallin is famous as The Man Who Can Not Die and indeed he does seem to have cheated death with remarkable success and with equally remarkable frequency. Simon has a theory about this, that a man who cannot die is likely to be a man who is in reality inordinately afraid of death. He tries to explain the details of his theory to Patricia Holm (his lady love at this stage of his career). It’s somewhat obscure to her but she has no doubt that somehow or other it does make sense to Simon.

Simon has also come to suspect that a man who cheats death so often may in fact have done so at the expense of others. Perhaps Miles Hallin cannot die but people around him seem to do so with unusual frequency.

This is the very early Saint, when Charteris’s hero was simultaneously both more carefree and rather darker than his later incarnations. Certainly rather more ruthless. The early Saint’s methods for dealing with the ungodly were frequently quite extreme and often very final.

As you would expect the Saint still finds time to improvise verses and sing or song or two. It’s all part of the fun of getting mixed up in adventures.

All three novellas are tremendous fun and The Man Who Could Not Die in particular is vintage early Charteris. Highly recommended.

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