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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Saints alive!

To most of us, it seems that Simon Templar, the Saint, has been around all our lives.  Which is probably quite true, since the fictional character created by Leslie Charteris debuted in 1928. He’s had quite a track record. Charteris wrote 14 novels between 1928 and 1971 (the last two co-written), 34 novellas, and 95 short stories featuring Simon Templar. Between 1963 and 1997, an additional seven novels and fourteen novellas were written by others.
My bookmarks drawn in 1964

Certain fictional prose* characters survive through the decades because their appeal touches some chord in us. For Tarzan, perhaps it’s the noble savage, for Bond, it’s his determination to overcome all obstacles, even those seemingly implacable, for Simon Templar, it’s his constant fight against ‘the ungodly’, as he terms the criminal element.

The early Saint stories reveal a different character, insouciant but deadly, compared to the later more cynical versions. But one thing they have in common is the desire to vanquish felons of all stripes.   

This Robin Hood of crime functions as an ordinary detective in some stories, while in others he out-cons vanity publishers and other rip-off artists, corrupt politicians, warmongers, greedy bosses who exploit their workers, liars and other low life.

The style of the stories is often tongue-in-cheek, knowing, and from the narrator’s point of view, not necessarily the Saint’s. Yet we don’t particularly mind Charteris demolishing the ‘fourth wall’ from time to time, because these capers are fun – and rarely without a moral, it should be added. Some writing purists might opine that this style of writing wouldn’t get published today; that kind of comment is pointless. They’re written of and for their time, and can still be enjoyed. (Indeed, Charteris toyed with rewriting the early books to bring them up to date for modern readers – 1930s transposed to the 1960s, for example – but decided, rightly, against it; the task would have been fraught with pitfalls, too.)

You have to be aware of alternative titles, too. For example, The Last Hero has been retitled The Creeping Death, Sudden Death, The Saint Closes the Case (current in the US), The Saint and the Last Hero. Wikipedia (naturally) has a helpful breakdown that will help avoid duplicate purchasing: here
In the early novels, each chapter is headed with a sentence or two explaining what will transpire, without giving away anything, such as ‘How Simon Templar sang a song, and found some of it true.’

Omniscient, humorous, Charteris teases:

Meet the Saint. His godfathers and his godmothers, at his baptism, had bestowed upon him the name of Simon Templar; but the coincidence of initials was not the only reason for the nickname by which he was far more widely known. One day, the story of how he came by that nickname may be told: it is a good story, in its way, though it goes back to the days when the Saint was nineteen, and almost as respectable as he looked. But the name had stuck… p7, The Avenging Saint (Knight Templar, 1930)

‘Put up your hands, Herr Saint.’
‘Bless my soul!’ said the Saint, who was never profane on really distressing occasions. (p120, The Avenging Saint).

‘The art of crime,’ said Simon Templar, carefully mayonaising a section of truitea la gelée, ‘is to be versatile. Repetition breeds contempt – and promotion for flat-footed oafs from Scotland Yard…’

Patricia Holm fingered the stem of her wineglass with a far-away smile. Perhaps the smile was a trifle wistful. Perhaps it wasn’t. You never know. But she had been the Saint’s partner in outlawry long enough to know what any such oratorical opening as that portended; and she smiled. – (p39, The Brighter Buccaneer, 1933)

The Saint has had many partners, though none last throughout the series. For the first half until the late 1940s, the most recurrent is Patricia Holm, his girlfriend, who was introduced in the 1928 novel in which she shows herself a capable adventurer. Holm appeared erratically throughout the series, sometimes disappearing for books at a time, and vanishing completely in the late 1940s. A pity, because up to that point many readers thought that Holm was where the heart is... Templar and Holm cohabited; one wonders if the librarians felt as affronted as they showed over Tarzan and Jane (actually, the latter pair were married, though those offended never read that book).

Capture the Saint (1997), not counting a novelization of the 1997 film, The Saint, both written by Burl Barer, was the first original Simon Templar book published since 1983. It was issued by The Saint Club, a worldwide fan club for the series which Charteris established in 1936. Capture the Saint is the 52nd Saint book published since 1928 and can now be obtained as an e-book; it faithfully captures the flavour of the early Saint adventures, in style and language.

Now, in paperback and e-book format, the Saint adventures are being re-released (Mulholland books), all with stylish covers. Some books are not available until December 2013 or early 2014; still, you could start collecting now: here   If you select the book/e-book from this website, a small donation (via Amazon associates program) goes to the Saint Club.

The Saint Club was founded by Charteris in 1936. Before the war it donated its profits to a London hospital; after the national health service was established, profits were donated to the Arbour Youth Centre in Stepney. Now, the tradition is continued, with donations going to the Red Cross and different children’s charities.

The Club acts as a focal point for anyone interested in the adventures of Simon Templar and the work of Leslie Charteris and offers merchandise and various Saint related publications. All profits are donated to charity. Annual subscription £3.50, lifetime £30. See the website here


* Footnote. I’m stipulating prose here. There are plenty of superhero comic-book characters who have bridged the decades and have become household names.
[Leon Cazador is a modern day Saint character, fighting injustice on behalf of the innocent and the weak. See him in action in Spanish Eye, on release 29 November (Paperback) here [] (Paperback) here [] - Kindle links tomorrow!

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