Featuring the Saint

(Continued from here.)

With 12 novels, 34 novellas and 95 short stories (collected in 24 volumes), the sheer volume of Leslie Charteris’s work can be daunting.

The beSaint Plays with Fire.jpgst Charteris novel I’ve read is The Saint Plays with Fire (1938).  ‘Retired Generals, great financier, and ex-Cabinet Ministers couldn’t conspire to cover up murder: it was one of those things which simply did not happen.’  Thrillers are often thought of as right-wing, pitting square-jawed Englishmen against dastardly foreigners.  Charteris was definitely liberal.  Here, the Saint fights the Establishment.  Charteris suggests that the people who run Britain (and France and Germany) – the politicians, the army, the businessmen – are the enemy of their country’s citizens.  Kane Luker (Cain Lucre) owns newspapers and armament factories in all those countries, and tries to start a major European war to line his pockets.

Saint Around the WorldThe later short story collections, The Saint in Europe (1953), On the Spanish Main (1955) and Around the World (1956) are great.  As the titles suggest, the Saint is a globe-trotter, who finds adventure as far afield as Canada, Haiti, South-east Asia, the Middle East and Europe.  Charteris is equally venturesome, and tries something new with almost each story.  One story might be a whodunit or an action piece, another is a character piece about the reformation of a spoilt heiress (the delightful “Golden Journey”), the next is a domestic murder drama influenced by Somerset Maugham (“The Pluperfect Lady”), and a fourth puts the Saint in an ethical dilemma.  Among the best are “The Rhine Maiden”, in which the Saint deals with a crooked financier on a German train; “The Black Commissar”, set in Jamaica, and which shows the half-Chinese Charteris’s dislike for racism – Simon horrifies a dowager by shaking hands with a black man; and “The Questing Tycoon”, with a respectful treatment of voodoo.

Best of the Saint.jpgThe Best of the Saint (2008), two volumes of short stories, will give you both The Saint in Europe and Around the World, as well as Enter the Saint (1930) and stories from The Saint vs. Scotland Yard (1932), The Saint in London (1934), The Saint Goes On (1934), The Happy Highwayman (1939), Follow the Saint (1939) and The Saint in the Sun (1964).

The earliest Saint stories, written in Charteris’s early twenties, are exuberant but unpolished; although the dialogue is bright and clever, the prose can be luridly purple and the plots are sometimes a confusing blur of gunplay and fast cars.  So far, the best of the very early ones is “The Wonderful War”, in which Simon and three friends bring down a Latin American dictatorship.  Simon pretends to be a Spanish peon, gets thrown in jail, escapes after months, and takes a bath in the president’s bathroom.  Chutzpah!

Moore Saint gif.gifThe TV series (1962-69) featuring Roger Moore (a decade before 007) as “the infamous” Simon Templar is fantastically entertaining – an adventure series with a witty, cosmopolitan tone and the production standards of a movie.

Moore is in his element as the debonair Saint: charming and roguish, with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of menace.

The cast reads like a who’s who of 1960s actors.  There are big film stars: Oliver Reed, Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Anthony Quayle.  There are stars of Doctor Who, The Avengers, and the James Bond movies: Patrick Troughton, Roger Delgado, Honor Blackman, Nicholas Courtney, Ian Hendry, Jean Marsh, Shirley Eaton and Lois Maxwell.  And there are character actors: André Morell, Julian Glover, Warren Mitchell, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Philip Madoc, Judy Parfitt, William Gaunt, Andrew Keir, Nyree Dawn Porter, Peter Wyngarde, Nigel Davenport, Geoffrey Bayldon, Robert Hardy, Peter Bowles, Peter Jeffrey, Michael Gough, Christopher Benjamin, Nigel Stock, and Freddie Jones, to name but a few.

Even the minor episodes are never less than entertaining.  There are gritty, film noir episodes: “The Contract”.  There are witty episodes, often set on the Riviera: “The Persistent Patriots”, “The Lawless Lady” and “The Spanish Cow”.

Best episodes include:

“The Pearls of Peace” (8 November 1962)

Pearls and girls in Mexico.

 

“The Element of Doubt” (22 November 1962).

A clever biter-bit story about a crooked defence lawyer in the States.

 

“The Saint Plays With Fire” (28 November 1963)

This is strong stuff.  The political angle of the original is absent; Simon’s enemy are neo-Nazis rather than big business, the army and politicians in cahoots to start a war and take over Europe.  From the opening at a Nazi rally in 1960s Britain, there isn’t a single dead minute.  Joseph Furst plays Kane Luker; unfortunately, he doesn’t shout “NUZZINK IN ZE VORLD CAN SCHTOP ME NOW!”.

“The Wonderful War” (2 January 1964)

The Saint in the Land of Black Gold!  Was this actually filmed in the Middle East?  There are Arabian palaces with doorways and pillars; markets with donkeys; townspeople in robes and keffiyeh; helicopters; and camels.  The Saint disguises himself as an objectionable American oil millionaire, J. Pierpoint Sykes.

“Sibao” (25 February 1965)

The Saint in the West Indies, in an adventure involving voodoo and murder.  This is almost a dry run for Live and Let Die, one of the best 007 movies.

“The Old Treasure Story” (26 August 1965)

Who can resist a story about the lost treasure of Blackbeard?

“Locate and Destroy” (16 December 1966)

Not based on a Charteris story.  The Saint in Peru, helping the Israeli secret service bring a Nazi to justice.  Enough thrills for a movie.

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Featuring the Saint

  1. Mr. Fuller—
    I don’t know if you got a chance to see my responses to your comments on my blog, but, if not, thank you very much for commenting! I liked your last post on the Saint and Mr. Charteris’s love of adventure; the quotation seems very Carrian; no surprise on this end that Charteris considered Carr a “genius”! I have seen exactly one episode of “The Saint” and read one story (“The Man who Played with Toys,” I think), so I don’t have much knowledge of the character, but I do always love fun, adventurous stories of romantic gentleman-thieves. I’m currently reading a big set of James Bond books—I’ve never read Bond before, so I’m enjoying it immensely. Anyway… Hope everything’s going well for you! As I wrote in my response, your “The Grandest Game in the World” has long been my “go-to” after I read a detective story. I always wish you had more short reviews of great books—our tastes seem to cohere so often!
    Best,
    Karl Salzmann

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    • Mr Salzmann,

      Thank you for these kind comments! Glad to see your blog is resurrected; I enjoyed your posts on Queen and Murder She Wrote – both enthusiastic and informed, and often thought provoking! Clever Van Dine parody, too!

      I envy your reading the Bond books for the first time; Ian Fleming’s a terrific writer – he observes places and people, and describes them very clearly. I reread From Russia with Love a couple of months ago, and it still grips.

      I don’t read many detective stories any more. I’ve read nearly everything by the greats and have too good a memory for details to reread them yet! I might give them five years. I tried reading the British writers (realists) earlier this year; a lot of rare books are in print or on Kindle, but I found most of them dull – flatly written, and not enough story, characterisation, style or sense of fun. American writers (and the British intuitionists and Sayers) are generally more stylish, cleverer writers with a better sense of the grandest game in the world and the challenge to the reader.

      I picked up Carr’s Most Secret, which I hadn’t read since early ’98, the other day. It’s vividly told, full of pungent Restoration slang; Carr obviously loved the 17th century!

      Regards

      Nick

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      • Nick–
        Thanks a million for your kind words. As for the Bond set–I own a copy of “Casino Royale” and read it last month; the moment I finished it, I ordered the set through interlibrary loan. It’s great stuff– the book has “Casino Royale,” “Live and Let Die,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “From Russia, with Love,” “Dr. No,” and “Goldfinger.” I’m about 3 chapters into “Dr. No” right now; my favorite Bond books so far are “Royale” and “Russia.” (Two of my favorite Bond movies, too!) You’re absolutely right, Fleming is a terrific author.
        Speaking of those fun writers (Carr, Charteris, Fleming), have you ever read Mark Gatiss’s Lucifer Box novels? I only read “The Devil in Amber,” but it was a fun, silly book, involving spies, Fascists, and Satanists. Not great, but good for entertainment. Couldn’t help thinking how much better the plot, because I could imagine it as an “Avengers” episode, would’ve been if John Steed and Mrs. Peel were there to solve it instead, though!
        I’m far behind you in detective stories; still have more Carrs and a lot more Gladys Mitchell books to read! “Come Away, Death” and “When I Last Died” are probably my favorite Mitchells so far, probably because of my love for Greek mythology and for ghost stories, respectively.
        It’s interesting that American authors tend to be better practitioners of the “grandest game.” I’ve observed that too; for all of Carr’s superficial “Britishness,” his whole style, with its climaxes and twists and turns, betrays how American he really is. Carr did love the 17th century, and his joy is contagious; I became fascinated by the time period after reading “Edmund Godfrey” (and by the Affair of the Poisons after reading “The Burning Court”). One of my favorite writers is Russell Kirk, the American political theorist and philosopher, who was also fascinated by many of the same things. Will always recognize the references to Huysmans’s “La-Bas” or to Mme. de Brinvillers in the future!
        All right, I’ve gone on long enough. I’ve written some other detective-story parodies and may post them in the future.
        Best,
        Karl

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Karl,

    I’ve been snowed under with work, so haven’t had a chance to reply.

    “It was midway between the fish course and the pudding … that I did the decent thing and shot him.” The Lucifer Box books are fun. Devil in Velvet is probably the best, but The Vesuvius Club (fin de siecle Decadence – Beardsley and Wilde) is clever. I wasn’t so keen on Black Butterfly, the 007 spoof. Hmm! I think I’ll read them again.

    An Avengers fan? Fantastic! A brilliant, stylish show – one of my favourites. I’ve been meaning to post about the series, and review some of the Big Finish audio plays. They’ve recorded the first series (the early noirish version with Steed and Dr Keel) and adapted some of the comic books with Mrs Peel. Fun, but they show just how good Rigg and Macnee were – the replacements don’t have the same charm.

    Have you read Jonathan L Howard’s Johannes Cabal the Necromancer series? They’re funny – there’s one memorable bit with a group of Cthulhu worshippers in the first book. The second is a murder mystery set on a zeppelin, complete with two maps and an impossible crime.

    The other two writers I’d really recommend are George MacDonald Fraser and Gerald Durrell. Fraser wrote the Flashman books, 19th century history seen through the eyes of a complete cad, rotter and coward – whom everyone thinks is a gallant hero. The Pyrates!, his pastiche of ’30s swashbucklers, is also excellent. Fraser also wrote the scripts for the Michael York Musketeers movies and Octopussy.

    Durrell’s famous as a zoologist – Jersey Zoo, dedicated to conservation, changed the purpose of zoos – but he’s also one of the funniest writers since Wodehouse, and has a worldly, amused tone, travelled everywhere, and he’s often bawdy but can be enjoyed by pre-teens. (‘Rabelais – good, clean fun!’) Also wrote one of the creepiest ghost stories, about something horrible lurking in mirrors.

    Haven’t read Russell Kirk. Any recommendations?

    Nick

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    • No worries at all–I’m going back to college in a few days, so I’ll be swamped with work pretty soon too. I enjoyed “The Devil in Velvet” and tried reading “The Vesuvius Club” but had trouble getting into it. I’ll have to try again!
      Big-time Avengers fan–it’s always at the top, almost always the #1 spot, of my “Favorite TV Shows” list. It’s just such a clever, wonderful show, one that could only have been done then and with the people it had. I’ve only seen the Macnee-Rigg episodes and enjoyed every single one I’ve seen. Pure pleasure. It’s difficult roping people into watching it, though–its style, charm, and wit are so incongruous with modern predilections. I was lucky enough to watch it when I was very young, with my father (who watched it when it first came on American screens in the ’60s and has been a fan since then), and thereby “grow up” with it, so to speak. Just a great show. I’m sure you know this website (http://theavengers.tv/forever/guide.htm), but I always use it as a guide.
      I have not read the Jonathan Howard series, but it looks very interesting, so thanks for letting me know!
      I’ve known of Fraser and Flashman for a long time but have not yet actually picked up one of the books. Another series on the “to-read” list. Durrell sounds very interesting too–one of the funniest writers since Wodehouse, eh? I love ghost stories and have written several of my own, so I’m going to have to pick up a copy of his (preferably in the time leading up to Halloween). It’s amusing how Durrell was a ghost story-writing conservationist like Robert Aickman, one of my favorite writers.
      Speaking of Aickman, I’d compare Russell Kirk’s ghost stories to his. My Kirk ghostly-tales anthology proudly trumpet Aickman’s praise: “The best stories by an American in what is commonly called the supernatural are by Russell Kirk. … His collected [ghostly tales] meet on level terms Edith Wharton, Ambrose Bierce, and even the founding father, Mr. Poe.” Kirk was well-versed in all manner of ghostly tale; his non-fiction book, “Confessions of a Bohemian Tory,” details his often-spooky experiences in “haunted St. Andrews” (whence he received his doctorate in letters) and all around England and Scotland. A few years ago, a publisher reprinted the majority of Kirk’s ghost stories in a collection called “Ancestral Shadows.” They’re all excellent (though some, like the fine, sad “Saviourgate,” read in spots more like philosophical dissertations), but I’d recommend the two featuring Kirk’s recurring character Manfred Arcane–“The Last God’s Dream” (involving Diocletian) and “The Peculiar Demesne of Archvicar Gerontion” (ghost story at Christmastime)–as well as “Sorworth Place.” I’d probably consider the latter the very best of the lot, and it’s the only one that has been filmed (for Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery”). “The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost” and “Ex Tenebris” are also winners. This site is a good source: http://ghostly-kirk.weebly.com. Kirk is one of my favorite writers ever, though it helps that we share the same politics. (Dr. Kirk was one of the founders of the American conservative movement.) As for his non-fiction, “Confessions of a Bohemian Tory” is an unabashed delight, with memoirs, musings on post-war Europe, true-life ghost stories, treks across the United States with fellow hitchhiker and politically-opposite philosopher Norman Thomas, meetings with the infanta of Spain, etc., and “The Conservative Mind” is of course his masterpiece, analyzing more than a score of English and American conservative writers, thinkers, and poets.
      As always, thanks for everything–
      Karl

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Karl,

    Apologies once again for not replying sooner!

    You have excellent taste. I’ll try to post that Avengers overview tonight.

    My parents grew up watching The Avengers, and talked about how good it was. A teacher (same vintage) lent me some of the episodes, and I was hooked.

    Have you watched Doctor Who? Not the modern remake, but the series that began in the ’60s? If you like The Avengers, it might be your cup of tea.

    “Style, charm and wit are incongruous with modern predilections”! And how – more’s the pity. Most remakes are now “dark”, overwrought and cheerless: James Bond, the Star Trek movies, Batman (part of me still thinks that the Adam West series was the best, because it was fun), the relaunched Doctor Who. The most successful episode of the relaunched Poirot series was “Curtain”, because it’s meant to be dour.

    I’ve seen productions of theatre and opera that’d make your hair stand on end. What, it’s meant to be a comedy? Let’s do it as a Tarantinoesque bloodbath, with extra Nazis.

    Grrr.

    I picked up The Vesuvius Club recently, but couldn’t get through it. Too camp for my tastes. That said, I enjoyed Nebulous, a BBC Radio spoof radio science fiction series starring Gatiss. Bleak Expectations, a BBC Radio parody of Dickens, is also very good.

    Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, get hold of The Assassination Bureau, an Edwardian comedy thriller, which stars Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg. Trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGXxHjlZavw

    The Wrong Box, based on Stevenson, is also delightful.

    I’ll have to check out Russell Kirk. Have you read E.F. Benson or M.R. James?

    Nick

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