Alternative title: The Saint Meets the Tiger (Buy from Amazon)
Edition: Ward, Lock & Co., 1927
Review number: 1154
Before changing publishers to Hodder and Stoughton, a move which coincided with his writing career suddenly taking off, Leslie Charteris wrote about half a dozen thrillers for Ward, Lock & Co. Meet the Tiger is one of these, and is a Saint book, written three or four years before the novel which Hodder designated as the first in that long series, Enter the Saint. It's gone on to be comparatively forgotten ever since, with fewer reprints making it harder to track down. (I've been collecting Leslie Charteris for about twenty years, and this was the first copy I'd ever seen.)
Meet the Tiger derives much of its character from the juxtaposition of two widely separate worlds: the Chicago gangster culture and a sleepy, tiny Devon fishing village (these were the days before mass car ownership brought tourism to such picturesque settings). The Saint has come to Baynscombe on the trail of a massive hoard of stolen bullion, but has to work out which of the village characters are members of the Tiger's gang (known as the Cubs) and, most importantly, who is the Tiger himself. The situation is complicated by his first meeting with Patricia Holm, destined to be a part of many of the novels which eventually followed.
The most interesting question any Saint fan has about Meet the Tiger is how the series characters in their earliest manifestation match up with their later versions. (As well as Simon Templar and Patricia Holm, Meet the Tiger also introduces the Saint's manservant, Orace.) In fact, there is not all that much difference; the facetiae are not quite as polished and lighthearted, and it would be odd to describe the later Saint as "inexperienced with women". Orace is given a big part, in contrast to the way that he later fades into the background as other sidekicks come along. Patricia is much the same, the beautiful young woman who is nearly as competent an adventurer as Simon; it is nice to read the story of their original meeting at last.
It is in the plotting that Charteris shows his inexperience, a flaw which Meet the Tiger shares with the other pre-Hodder books that I have read. Like many thirties thriller writers, Charteris consistently shows a liking for the fantastic - incredible disguises, villains leading double lives as respectable citizens, and so on. Later on, he can make it seem believable (The Saint in New York being an outstanding example), but here the creakiness of the plot is quite clear.