Helping the victims of a devastating country house fire, Simon finds there is one he is unable to rescue. Soon he becomes convinced that the fire was not an accident, but murder. The mystery is: why?
"Prelude for War" (later plonkingly re-titled "The Saint Plays with Fire"), one of the best Saint novels, is very much of its time — i.e. just before World war II — and has echoes of The Last Hero
and Knight Templar
. It makes particularly clear the author's loathing of Fascism and everything associated with it.
The idea that wars are encouraged, or even engineered, by arms-manufacturers and others who stand to make a profit from them has gone in and out of fashion over the years. The Saint is a proponent of it, and even mentions (in a conversation with Patricia Holm) a book wherein this thesis is documented. I was interested to find that the book really exists, and finally ran it down*. It seems very well researched, and well-written, too: I wish there were an up-to-date version!
Anyway, I found this Saint episode unputdownable from start to finish. In addition to the usual friends like Orace, Peter and Hoppy, we have the pleasure of meeting what must surely be Charteris's loveliest non-recurring character: Lady Valerie Woodchester. To make her acquaintance would alone be enough reason to read the book!
*Merchants of Death
by H.C. Engelbrecht & F.C. Hanighen, published in 1934 by Dodd, Mead & Co. (New York).
P.S. For a list of all Charteris's Saint books (in two sections, because of length limitations) see my Listmanias.