Wednesday, 8 August 2001

Leslie Charteris: The Saint on the Spanish Main (1955)

Edition: Pan, 1962
Review number: 897

This collection, like The Saint in Europe before it and The Saint Around the World after it, has a theme of travel, with each of its five stories set in different locations. They are all, in this case, in the Caribbean, which with their fifties date makes them feel more like Ian Fleming's James Bond stories than any others in the Saint series.

All five stories are nondescript and easily forgettable as thrillers, but two of them stand out because of the interest of their settings. One is Haiti, where Simon Templar becomes involved with an American businessman who is studying voodoo with the aim of cost cutting in his factories by employing zombies; it has a supernatural element unusual in Charteris' writing, but is inferior to, say, the film of Live and Let Die in its atmosphere.

The setting of the Jamaica story involves a less well known aspect of Caribbean culture. In the mountains of the island lies the territory of the Maroons, which was an effectively autonomous little state founded by runaway slaves in the eighteenth century. This is a similar story to the creation of the state of Haiti. The story itself doesn't live up to what is a fascinating and romantic background, and throughout the collection Charteris is not really at home with the Caribbean as he seems to be when writing about Europe and the United States.

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