Matt Forney
Spread the Word!

Enter the Saint by Leslie Charteris

enter-the-saintThe idea that popular fiction is a reflection of the zeitgeist is a ludicrously trite statement, but it bears repeating from time to time. Sherlock Holmes was a product of late Victorian hypocrisy and prissiness; Mike Hammer titillated the repressed families of post-World War II America with sex and sleaze; Stephen King spins classic horror tales for a postmodern audience. With that in mind, what do we make of Leslie Charteris’ character Simon Templar (aka the Saint) and his series of crime thrillers?

 Answer: they were written for a world in decay.

While the Saint novels aren’t terribly shocking by modern standards, awash as we are in tales of morally compromised antiheroes, Charteris’ books were relatively novel by the standards of interwar Britain. Simon Templar is a blend of Robin Hood and Mike Hammer, dispensing justice to the wicked outside the confines of the law. Despised by Scotland Yard just as much as the criminals he fought, the Saint’s adventures were the perfect brand of escapism for the post-World War I West. The moral sureties and optimism of the Belle Epoque washed away in the trenches of Verdun, the rudderless peoples of Europe and the U.S. sought to fill the gaping hole with whatever came along.

The Saint novels weren’t simply about thrilling mysteries and high adventure, they were a direct attack on the failure of Western institutions. Simon Templar’s brand of vigilante justice was catnip to an audience that had lost faith in the structures of traditional society. Charteris, himself an outsider to British and American society (he was half-Chinese and born in Singapore), understood this better then other popular writers of the day.

For those interested in the Saint novels, Enter the Saint is a good place to start. The second volume in the Saint series (the first volume was disliked by Charteris himself and ignored in later books), it displays flashes of the brilliance that Charteris would bring to later installments. While imperfect, Enter the Saint is a breezy read, buoyed by Charteris’ keen eye for dialogue, action and social observation:

Hilloran had an inspiration. He couldn’t stop to give thanks for the marvelous coincidence that ha made the girl play straight into his hands. The thanksgiving could come later. The immediate thing was to leap for the heaven-sent opening. He took a sheet of paper from his pocket and leaned forward. “You remember me giving Dicky a letter yesterday evening before dinner?” he asked. “I opened it first and took a copy. Here it is. It looks innocent enough, but—“

Enter the Saint comprises three short stories: “The Man Who Was Clever,” “The Policeman with Wings,” and “The Lawless Lady.” The latter one is by far the weakest of the novellas, as it barely concerns Templar at all, instead focusing on his underling Dicky Tremaine. The first two, on the other hand, are well worth the price of admission, as they detail the efforts of the Saint and his merry band to take down a ring of drug smugglers:

The Saint felt the wind of the blow caress his face, and then a lightning left uppercut came rocketing up from his knees to impact on the point of Snake’s jaw, and Ganning was catapulted back into the arms of his attendant Boys.

While Charteris’ prose in Enter the Saint is not as strong as in his later Saint novels, this book is still worth the buy if you enjoy action, mystery and adventure novels.

Click here to buy Enter the Saint.

Read Next: Enter the Diefenbunker: A Photo Essay