Friday, 27 March 1998

Leslie Charteris: The Saint Abroad (1969)

Edition: New English Library
Review number: 15


This is one of the later Saint books, based on the TV series (Roger Moore period) rather than coming before it. It contains two novellas, The Art Collectors and The Persistent Patriots; both were among the better TV episodes. However, like the other late books, Leslie Charteris neither wrote the screenplays nor adapted them for the book. He was never a man who believed in doing anything when someone else was willing to do it for him.

The Art Collectors is about a young woman who is trying to sell some old masters looted by her father during the war. Pretty much everyone she meets is trying to get hold of the pictures without paying, until Simon Templar lends a hand. It is quite absurd - a collection of five old masters more or less randomly acquired contains no previously documented works, and this seems to me rather unlikely. The number of different groups involved also makes the whole thing rather farcical.

The Persistent Patriots concerns assassination and blackmail attempts on the leader of an African country during a visit to London and how Simon Templar foils them and lays bare the plot behind them. While not overtly racist, the fact that this leader is white and that he is described as the sort of strong leader that Africa needs is now a bit close to that. However, it should be remembered that at the time it was a common perception in the former colonial powers that independence for many countries was an invitation for them to descend into anarchy. It remains one of the less creditable stories to appear under Charteris' name, particularly given his earlier attacks on the far right.

Neither story is particularly original in plot, but they are easy and fun to read. My advice to anyone who wants to read the Saint is to aim for the early books, which are very much better. Try The Saint in New York for a very good example.

3 comments:

Frankymole said...

As to the origin of the paintings, the last part of "The Art Collectors" seems to indicate that they were either looted from the ancient collection of an aristocratic family (the "old friend", the Italian Count mentioned in the backstory of the pictures); probably by Hans the chauffeur during the war (rather than Annabella's father - unless Hans really is her father), or alternatively they were perhaps faked by Hans (less likely, I'd have thought). Hans is described as bowing modestly when Annabella says there are "plenty more where that came from" and asking about the current market price of Reubens. So either he has more paintings salted away somewhere, or can make more paintings...

frankymole said...

As to the origin of the paintings, the last part of "The Art Collectors" seems to indicate that they were either looted from the ancient collection of an aristocratic family (the "old friend", the Italian Count mentioned in the backstory of the pictures); probably by Hans the chauffeur during the war (rather than Annabella's father - unless Hans really is her father), or alternatively they were perhaps faked by Hans (less likely, I'd have thought). Hans is described as bowing modestly when Annabella says there are "plenty more where that came from" and asking about the current market price of Reubens. So either he has more paintings salted away somewhere, or can make more paintings...

Simon McLeish said...

Quite true - but what I meant was more that the scam wouldn't seem very plausible to me if I was the one being conned: I think I'd expect to find at least one in catalogues of known but lost works.