“Pardon me. In the excitement of the moment, and all that sort of thing, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m afraid I’ve had you at a disadvantage. My name is Templar—Simon Templar”—he caught the flash of stark hypnotic fear that blanched the big man’s lips, and grinned even more gently. “You may have heard of me. I am the Saint.”
My introduction to the world of The Saint comes, like I suspect it does for many, from Roger Moore’s entertaining and breezy 1960’s British television show that had the impeccably dressed adventurer-for-hire traversing the globe, righting wrongs, and meeting attractive women. From there I sought out the numerous short stories written by Leslie Charteris (and various ghost writers) which resembled the classic show in attitude and execution, although the ITV series leaned initially toward mystery-style escapades and eventually evolved into the more espionage-laced plots that were all the craze at the time.
What will strike Saint devotees who are not as familiar with the earlier adventures, like The Saint in New York (1935), is Simon Templar’s brutal, hard-edge tactics that are far removed from his methods in the mystery/spy genres that he would come to be associated with and more gangster-like in nature. Sure, he’s still a smooth-talking gentleman playing it cool, but halfway through the story, he has already killed three thugs and hijacked a taxi to escape from the police. In the later adventures from the 1950s and ’60s, Templar comes across mild-mannered, almost a dashing Dorothy L. Sayers type operative. Comparatively, this younger version of the Saint kicked some major butt and didn’t seem to think twice about the consequences. In fact, he’s such a thug that Scotland Yard warns the New York officials of The Saint’s departure for The Big Apple, and when a corpse turns up they are aware he has touched down. It’s not surprising they are rattled by his arrival given the letter received from The Yard warning them of all of the Saint’s exploits from the beginning—a clever way for Mr. Charteris to recap for those readers who are not familiar with his creation, making The Saint in New York an ideal starting point for any fresh recruits to the series.
The plot has Simon Templar befriending a wealthy American, William Valcross, whose son was murdered. He’s given a generous proposal that’s right up his alley: a million dollars to go to NYC and bring the killer to justice. But it’s no easy task with the deep rooted corruption that pervades the city’s judicial system. He cleans up the graft by eliminating men from the Mafioso’s hierarchy, meticulously working his way to the top to find out the identity of the “The Big Fellow” who is controlling the metropolitan. Though he comes to realize he may be playing right into the boss of bosses’ hands.
Templar’s enormous chutzpa is intact from the start. He dresses as a nun to elude the police and kidnaps a detective to convince him they are working toward the same goal. Templar brazenly sends his famous haloed stick figure logo to announce his arrival to the opposition. His employer Valcross asks him why he would do this, making his job even harder. The Saint replies:
“It goes back to some grand times—of which you’ve heard,” he said quietly. “The Saint was a law of his own in those days, and that little drawing stood for battle and sudden death and all manner of mayhem. Some of us live for it—worked for it—fought for it. One of us died for it….There was a time when any man who received a note like I sent to Irboll, with that signature, knew there was nothing more he could do. And since we’re out on this picnic, I’d like things to be the same—even if it’s only for a little while.”
If I had one complaint, it would be that Charteris seemed to pad the story a bit much with repetitive situations and passages. In particular, Templar has to contend with a few too many alike villains on his way to the top kingpin. Also, we are reminded quite often that the handsome Simon Templar has sparkling blue eyes.
Still, these small gripes aside, this novel is a lot of fun. The Saint in New York is highly recommended.
Read all of Edward A. Grainger's posts for Criminal Element.