Wednesday, 22 March 2000

Leslie Charteris: The Saint and Mr Teal (1933)

Alternative title: Once More the Saint
Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1950
Review number: 459

The three stories in Once More the Saint include one of Charteris' best, one of his worst, and one pretty standard. The worst, The Gold Standard, is about a plot surrounding a scientist who has succeeded in realising the alchemist's dream, producing gold by chemical means. I suppose in 1933 the scientific impossibility of this was not so sure, but it was still hardly an original plot.

The Man From St Louis is one Tex Goldman, an American gangster who, failing to make it quite as big in the States as he desires, decides to bring Chicago-style organised crime to London. This is a more exciting story, and is interesting in the way it starts a train of thought which leads to Simon Templar facing these gangsters on their home territory, in The Saint in New York.

The best of the three stories, The Death Penalty, is set in the unlikely location of the Scilly Isles. There, Simon learns, two drugs barons are meeting to define the boundaries between their empires. The story is about the evil of drugs, and has one of the most unpleasant villains in any of the Saint stories. Abdul Osman uses drugs to gain revenge on those who ridiculed him as an Egyptian boy at an English public school - he is twisted by the racist abuse he received. The whole thing is remarkably modern, and could easily have been written in the seventies or eighties rather than the thirties. However, the motivation behind Charteris' story is more of its time. He seems to have come up with the idea while thinking about capital punishment, the way that one murder may not be anything like another, even though the punishment would be the same for a fight gone too far or a deliberate killing. (Of course, drug barons don't usually get prosecuted for murder - not having contact with their victims - so there is another level to this.)

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