Tuesday 1 August 2000

Leslie Charteris: Saint Overboard (1936)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1951
Review number: 558

Today, Saint Overboard seems one of the most dated of all the Saint stories. It relies heavily for plot and atmosphere on a form of technology which has undergone great development in the past sixty years - diving equipment. In the late thirties, diving suits were cumbersome and expensive; neither the aqualung nor the wetsuit had been invented, and the diver relied on massive metal helmets connected to the surface by an all important air hose which could easily become entangled or cut. Diving was not, as it is today, something which could be undertaken as a leisure activity by any reasonably fit person after a short course of training; it was the province of specialists.

Saint Overboard is probably the earliest mainstream thriller to use what was to become a fairly commonplace plot: a conflict between legitimate and criminal attempts to salvage treasure from a wreck, in this case from the strongroom of the Chalfont Castle, on the seabed near Guernsey. Simon Templar becomes involved when he rescues a pretty girl, an investigator for maritime insurers Ingerbecks. There is a strong romantic element in the novel, as indeed there was in the previous one in the series (The Saint in New York); no mention is made of Simon's long time companion Patricia Holm. In The Saint in New York, romance plays an important part in the plot, but here it is more of an encumbrance, and it is not the sort of writing which suited Charteris.

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