Wednesday, 15 December 1999

Leslie Charteris: The Holy Terror (1932)

Alternative title: The Saint Versus Scotland Yard
Edition: Hodder & Stoughton
Review number: 407

By mid 1932, Charteris must have been tired; and The Holy Terror was only in the middle of an amazing burst of work which produced most of the early Saint stories in just a couple of years. The strain shows here, slightly, in the way that some of the originality of earlier stories is missing. While he cannot be said to be just going through the motions, there is little in the three stories in this book that is not standard and by this time well established in the Saintly canon.

The first story, The Inland Revenue, sees Simon Templar pursuing a blackmailer known as 'the Scorpion' for a contribution towards his income tax bill; The Million Pound Day concerns Simon's rescue of an Italian diplomat and subsequent foiling of a plot to destabilise the Italian economy; finally, The Melancholy Journey of Mr Teal is a race between Chief Inspector Teal and the Saint to find some stolen diamonds.

The middle story is one of my favourites of all the Saint stories. Though it contains no new elements, it is an expertly put together, typical Saint story. It could be cited as a paradigm of the early Saint. The most interesting aspect of any of these stories, however, occurs in The Melancholy Journey of Mr Teal when Simon carries his "favourite sport" of baiting Teal a little too far. He miscalculates to the extent that his expected triumph is no triumph at all, and this makes him a more human character.

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