This review is from: The Saint in New York (Paperback)
A REVIEW OF 'THE SAINT IN NEW YORK' by LESLIE CHARTERIS
Written in the mid 1930s, 'THE SAINT IN NEW YORK' has been repeatedly republished, including as a recognised "classic" inter-war years thriller. For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to dispute its status as a masterpiece of its kind. The novel is a relentless and (at times) brutal account of Simon Templar's vengeance mission against some of the grubbier members of The Big Apple's criminal underworld.
Although penned during the era of The Great Depression, when President Roosevelt's New Deal was restoring hope and limited prosperity to The Land Of The Free, Charteris depicts New York and as a city stained by corruption and manipulated by organised crime. Through many vivid descriptions of the city's architecture and inhabitants, this feels more like Gotham City than New York. Indeed, there is something decidedly Batman-esque about The Saint's pursuit of his enemies, whose names have been provided by his benefactor, Mr Valcross.
Nevertheless, despite the novel's dark undertones, Charteris peppers the narrative with a liberal sprinkling of humour. Regardless of the level of danger which Templar faces (ranging from severe to extreme and somewhere in between), he always has time for a wise crack; a habit which leads one hoodlum to continually refer to him as "nuts". Indeed, The Saint's almost ludicrous responses to his enemy's threats resemble the kind of absurd dialogue that Groucho Marx was delivering on the cinema screen at the same period in history. Come to think of it, there are plenty of cigars in this book...
However, 'THE SAINT IN NEW YORK' is not a perfect example of its kind. Rather than building to peaks of excitement and peril, there is almost a numbing profusion of dangerous situations for Templar to face. No sooner does he escape one life-threatening scrape, another awaits, almost literally around the corner. Now, I know the aim of such books is to ask the reader to suspend belief as the hero performs miraculous escapes, but given the number of angry, insulted and heavily armed crooks after The Saint (and the number of times that he falls into their hands), it borders on the preposterous to suggest that not one of them would simply bump him off. By failing to do so, Charteris provides The Saint with almost superhuman powers, endorsed by the author's virtual idolising of his character. The continual references to his blue eyes border on a curious hero-worship by the author, which seems to rather force the reader's supposed attitude towards Templar.
That said, despite its flaws, 'THE SAINT IN NEW YORK' is a gritty and hard-hitting thriller. Although he inevitably survives, The Saint ends the novel in a state of both physical and emotional pain, staggering from a brilliant final chapter which alone justifies reading the novel. This finale actually provides Templar with a likeable realism and some sympathy, leaving the reader glad that the tarnished halo will shine on in many, many further adventures.