RogerBW's Blog

Enter the Saint, Leslie Charteris 14 November 2016

1930 thriller, second of the Saint series. In three loosely-linked novellas, the Saint takes on a succession of criminals.

Starting in 1929, Charteris wrote several short stories for Monty Haydon's magazine The Thriller, with various one-off heroes such as Jimmy Traill, Rameses "Pip" Smith, and others. But making up new heroes as well as the rest of the story was hard work, and he soon returned to the Saint, giving him a gang of helpers (much in the manner of the other pulp heroes who were getting started around this time) and a flat in London. The Saint is an iconic character, so there's nothing like an origin story: as the book opens, he's already committed to his life of anti-crime.

In The Man Who Was Clever (formerly The Five Kings), the Saint takes on a crime boss who's running racecourse touts, drug smuggling, and gambling, and who's corrupting a Nice Young Man into joining his gang (because, of course, well-spoken criminals are terribly hard to find – and because the NYM has a fiancée whom the boss wants to sell into white slavery). All very morally panicked. The Saint is another pulp hero who dislikes guns, though he's happy to have knives strapped about his person – and this is early enough that it's plausible for the villains not to think of this when tying him up. There's a strong sense of a game being played here, particularly when the Saint extracts from the villain a cheque for all the profits he's made… as long he can live until next Monday morning to pay it into a bank. A trick cigarette that acts as a smoke-bomb is less impressive.

In The Policeman With Wings (formerly The House on the Moors), one of the Saint's helpers has fallen in love with a Girl, whose ailing father has been importuned to sell his house, then threatened… and, after he refused, has vanished, along with a car and the policeman who was driving him. The core plot certainly has some problems which could have been readily fixed, but Charteris admits it:

The girl gasped. It was a perfect story. As an explanation of the whole mystery, it was the only possible one that was convincing at the same time—and even then it read like the creation of some imaginative novelist's brain. It wanted some digesting.

and it's really a MacGuffin to get first the innocents and then the Saint involved in the action, and once more everyone is tied up under the guns of the villains – until the Saint manages to get everyone out of it.

In The Lawless Lady (formerly Crooks' Cargo), another of the Saint's helpers has fallen in love with a Girl… but it's the woman who's in charge of the gang that he's spent months infiltrating, and he has to choose between going through with the robbery or sticking with the Saint. The Saint himself only appears at the beginning and end, and Dicky Tremayne is not all that much of a substitute protagonist; Charteris clearly wants to show him going through agonies of doubt and reconciliation, but somehow never quite convinces.

All three of these stories are pretty straightforward thud-and-blunder, with little of the subtlety that characterised Meet the Tiger; and Pat Holm is very much sidelined, in the standard pulp mode. The Saint is unusual for a British pulp hero in that he's not written as upper-class (compare Bulldog Drummond or Nayland Smith); in fact he's mostly an heroic cipher as far as background goes. He's unusual for any pulp hero in that he is not on the side of the law; he'd be arrested if the police could ever prove anything, and he is willing to profit by his crimes, to the tune of ten per cent of the ill-gotten gains he recovers before donating the rest to a charity.

Most importantly, though, this is the early, bantering Saint, both before he became Americanised and before he got world-weary. He does what he does, at least in part, because he finds it fun.

Some editions omit one of the stories. Followed in the Saint's chronology by The Last Hero, which was in fact published a few months earlier.

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