My father used to devour The Saint books. I think what put me off them for so many decades was my mother's somewhat snobbish dismissal of them as "good fantasies for overgrown boys." That sounds harsher than she actually said it, as she was playfully teasing my father, who used to tell me he wished he had The Saint's good looks, physical prowess, intelligence, wit, and way with women.
So, here I find myself, decades later, deciding that it's time for me to find out for myself. I opened this book thinking it was a novel; it's actually three novellas, two of good length and one of medium length. And each is the perfect length, just enough to do justice to the plot and sketch out Simon Templar's many facets/talents, as well as his singlehanded pursuit of justice as he defines it. Today we'd probably have a lot of good discussions about The Saint's complete willingness to judge and to take matters into his own hands, much as we do with Jack Reacher. But in the context of a book published in 1933, I think we can just sit back and enjoy Simon's mixture of cockiness and his Robin Hood-like feeling for the downtrodden.
And Mom might have been surprised to discover that The Saint's girlfriend/lover, Patricia Holm, is way ahead of her time in her independence and ability to fend for herself, while also serving as The Saint's partner in crime/justice. I left the book wanting more of her - perhaps a precursor to Mrs. Peel?
There is a joie de vivre in these stories that's hard to describe. Charteris' prose is somewhat flowery, with long sentences and Upper Crusty vocabulary, but for me at least, that was part of the fun; it really was like being taken back in time to a more romanticized time. I should warn modern readers, though, that the last of the three novellas, "The Death Penalty," has some fairly explicit racism that was part of the cultural milieu of the 30s but that will certainly strike a discordant note with modern readers. And yet there is an underlying criticism of racism within the story, which makes me think Charteris may have been ahead of his time, much like Pat Holm. I did enjoy this book: pure escapism, lively writing, and some nice twists and turns. Perhaps The Saint is a little too perfect, a little too prescient - but this is fiction, after all.
A quick P.S. for those new to The Saint: The "Mr. Teal" of the title is Claud Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard, who is charged with bringing The Saint to justice but who often finds himself willingly or unwillingly aligned with Mr. Templar in the cause of justice.