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Knocking the "L" out of London
on 29 October 2014
This series from Mullholand Books, with the blessing of the Saint Club, has afforded me the opportunity both to catch up on Leslie Charteris's Saint books that, for whatever reason, I missed reading, plus to reacquaint myself with old friends. This volume is very definitely in the latter category.
With perhaps now a better appreciation of writing skills, I have come to the conclusion that much of the best of Charteris's writing came in the thirties. There is something fresher and livelier, to my taste, about the books from then. It was when he wrote most of the Saint novels. These, at their best, are probably the writings by Charteris that I rate most highly. Even from then, the short stories strike me as, by and large, not quite of the same quality as the novels- though there are some mighty fine ones. This leaves the novellas, or novelettes as Charteris preferred to call them. These, usually in batches of three, also contain some of the best writing, none more so than here, which is as good as in the best novels.
There is also, unusual for the books of novelettes, a continuity of line in the three stories that gives this one the feel of a novel, though each story could also be read separately. Continuity is very definitely apparent here in the development of the relationship between Simon Templar and his favourite nemesis, Chief Inspector Teal. It starts in the first story, when Teal calls in on the Saint and makes a deal with him. In the second they fall out, and this sequence of events reaches a climax in the third and final story where Simon has a nasty showdown with the policeman which leaves a bitter taste. The other consistent feature is Simon's relationship with his live-in girlfriend (considered less respectable then), Patricia Holm, who is an active partner and even in one story arrives gun in hand to rescue him.
The stories are typically told at a fast pace, as well as with the customary humour. Charteris is in top form here. In the first, the Saint deals with a nasty blackmailer, while looking for money to pay off someone even Simon Templar cannot defeat, namely the taxman, though readers will surely relish in his railing at the Inland Revenue. In the second story, he foils a plot to undermine the Italian currency. The final story is a caper with Simon after some stolen diamonds with a hilarious fight in a car, and a wonderful finale where he makes some recompense with Teal before sailing off with Pat into what will be the events in the next Saint novel, The Saint's Getaway (Saint 09).
In an introduction included for the second story, Leslie Charteris states that this book was the one with which he gained full confidence in his writing abilities, and in the Saint. It remained one of his favourites, and rightly so. Everything came right here. This is one of the very best Saint books.