Wednesday, 22 September 1999

Leslie Charteris: The Last Hero (1930)

Alternative title: The Saint Closes the Case
Edition:  Pan, 1961
Review number: 332

This, the second published volume in the Saint series proper, is the first full length novel in which he is the central character, and can perhaps make a better claim to be literature than anything else Charteris ever wrote.

How does The Last Hero differ from other Saint books and, indeed, set itself apart from the thirties thriller in general? The character of Simon Templar is not as central as usual, and Charteris manages to differentiate four different "good guys" and two "bad guys", none of them wholly stereotypical. (Compare this to, say, Dornford Yates, whose characters consist of one good guy and one bad guy, in male and female modes.) The book is very carefully constructed, leading up to one of the best-constructed surprise endings of any thriller ever written. A sombre mood prevails throughout, and this is perhaps motivated by the choice of subject matter.

The Last Hero is in fact an anti-war novel, in which Templar and his followers are not just trying to prevent a newly invented devastating weapon from falling into the wrong hands (as in Buchan) but into any hands, the British government included. Instead of a light hearted adventure for the fun of it - the characteristic nature of most of the Saint stories - this is deadly serious.

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