Saturday, 28 April 2001

Leslie Charteris: The Saint on Guard (1945)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1945
Review number: 809

The last Saint book to be written during the war - it was published a few months after it ended - contains two stories, of an unusual length (most of the books contain one, three or twelve stories). They are typical in content, though, both about Simon Templar's battles on the American "home front", fighting the black market and sabotage.

Both stories use the same investigative technique; Simon Templar announces that he is going to do something about a problem (the black market in iridium, essential for munitions, or a gang of saboteurs) and uses his reputation to make things happen and get the opposition panicked into making mistakes. This is a device that Charteris uses frequently, and while it makes for exciting thrillers, it becomes a bit predictable when several Saint stories are read more or less one after another, as I have been doing recently.

The two stories are not among the very best Saint stories, though competent, and there are signs that Charteris is becoming bored with this phase of the character. He makes fun of his own creation in a couple of places, which is a new departure. From this book, Charteris' speed of production drops quite dramatically, before reaching the point (with the advent of the TV series) where collections of Saint stories include ones written by other people. I have a suspicion that the mid 1940s was also a time when Charteris became disillusioned with the series of films; he didn't like any of the actors who portrayed Simon Templar, from George Saunders to Ian Ogilvy. The only way this shows in the writing is a certain lack of inspiration.

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