Tuesday, 22 August 2000

Leslie Charteris: The Ace of Knaves (1937)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1958
Review number: 583

The first of this collection of three novella-length Saint stories is closely connected to the events of the time when it was written. The Spanish War is about the ways in which the Fascist supported rebels in the Spanish Civil War (who were the eventual victors) tried to raise funds, handicapped by the fact that the government controlled the country's gold reserves. In this case, they have enlisted a forger to copy bearer bonds, until a young man accidentally picks several up and in turn involves Simon Templar.

Like several other Saint stories from this period, The Spanish War attacks aspects of contemporary politics in a very unusual way for such light reading. Charteris had very little time for Fascism, or any ideology which seemed to demand that followers let their leaders think for them, and he was happy to criticise through his (immensely popular, at the time) stories.

The other two stories are rather more violent than the average of Charteris' stories, and neither is quite as good as The Spanish War. One sees the Saint hijacking a load of smuggled liquor, only to find that the overall-clad van driver is in fact one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen, and the other is about him tracking down a particularly unpleasant extortionist (who targets young film actresses, threatening to deface them so they won't be able to work anymore).

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