RogerBW's Blog

Meet the Tiger, Leslie Charteris 20 November 2014

In a small village by the Devon coast, a very strange fellow has moved into the old pill-box on the cliff. Excitement ensues.

This is remembered now as the first Saint book, but in 1928 when it was originally published there was no such intention: it was Charteris' third novel, after the now-obscure X Esquire and The White Rider (and before Bandit and Daredevil, published in 1929 presumably before the sales of Meet the Tiger had become apparent). Clearly it's pulp adventure, but being slightly earlier than the "classic" pulps (The Shadow, 1930; Doc Savage, 1933) and not intended to introduce an iconic hero there was perhaps less pressure to conform to the standard model of hero, team of sidekicks, and No Women.

What we get in fact is an intriguing combination of action and detective story. One of the significant people of this small village (the industrialist, the retired judge, the huntin' and shootin' lady, the doctor, etc.) is the bank robber known as The Tiger, and some of the others may be his henchmen; the reader is challenged, as in a good mystery, to work out who it might be. The plot builds from this necessary puzzle: loot from a bank robbery is stashed in the village, until it can be moved somewhere else for appropriate disposal (the scheme is a reasonably practicable one), and by locating the Tiger the Saint hopes to be led to the loot, which he can return for legitimate reward.

Most interesting, though, is the character of Patricia Holm: she's not just someone for the hero to fall for, she's someone entirely happy to share his adventures, and when he's missing and later believed dead she carries the whole story on her own shoulders for several chapters. It's clear that the Saint himself is a bit nonplussed by this, and one suspects that Charteris may have felt the character had got away from him somewhat: although he retained Pat when the book became popular and he wrote sequel adventures, she never again became the protagonist as she is here, she was often completely absent, and by the end of the 1940s she had been permanently shuffled off-stage. (The other female character here is described as "mannish" so very often that one starts to think it might be a double-bluff. I won't say whether it is.)

The inter-war period is an interesting one with hindsight; one notes that Charteris made Templar somewhat older than himself – though still too young to have seen action in the Great War, and of that generation that had missed the big show and wanted some excitement of its own.

There's plenty of action, and not all of it's fighting and deathtraps. The final body count is uncharacteristically small by pulp standards. Nobody would mistake this for a literary masterpiece, but it's good stirring stuff, and its approach to female roles is for the era entirely revolutionary.

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