Tuesday 7 May 2019

Leslie Charteris: Salvage for the Saint (1983)

Edition: Thomas & Mercer, 2014
Review number: 1519

After almost forty years, this is the final Saint book which I am reading for the first time, as well as being the last one published (aside from the Burl Barer contributions, neither of which I've been able to like enough to read right through). Salvage for the Saint was adapted  by Peter Bloxsom from a double episode of The Return of the Saint TV series written by John Kruse, the two of them being frequent choices by Leslie Charteris to work with turning TV scripts into books.

The story starts at a motorboat race on the Isle of Wight, in which Simon Templar is unable to save fellow competitor Charles Tatenor from a fatal accident - or possibly from murder.  He also meets the dead man's beautiful widow Arabella. The action moves to the south of France (one of the favourite European locations of Saint stories), Simon to investigate the murder and Arabella to sell a yacht, as her husband unexpectedly left nothing but it and debts.

In places, Salvage for the Saint has a wistful atmosphere which is appropriate to the last novel in such a series, and includes a number of melancholy references to older Saint stories. This is far more subtle than in the Burl Barer-penned Capture the Saint, which is full of contrived attempts to introduce names of older stories into the narrative - a piece of silliness which becomes infuriating after a few pages. It was Leslie Charteris' decision to stop at this point, and these touches are perhaps pointers to this being the final Saint story.

Diving is an crucial part of Salvage for the Saint, as it was to the early novel Saint Overboard, published almost fifty years earlier. In both novels, the diving technology is important to the plot, and it is hugely different - heavy suits with air hoses to the surface are now replaced by compact scuba tanks; to read both is to have a glimpse of how much had changed during the time that Leslie Charteris was writing.

All in all, this is a worthy conclusion to the Saint saga, though it doesn't match up to the quality of the early stories. My rating: 7/10.

Sunday 14 April 2019

Leslie Charteris: Count on the Saint (1980)

Edition: Coronet, 1980
Review number: 1518

According to the saint.org website, this is by uncredited (as far as I can see) writers Graham Weaver and Donne Avenell - the same as the previous Saint book, The Saint and the Templar Treasure. Like many of the books which originated from the TV Saint adventures, Count on the Saint contains two independent stories, The Pastor's Problem and The Unsaintly Santa.

As soon as I started reading the first story, it felt as though I was back in the heyday of the Saint. This is a big contrast to The Saint and the Templar Treasure, which is a competent thriller but which is not convincing as part of the series. The setup is very Saintly indeed, as Simon Templar steals a chalice belonging to a church in order sell it to help the pastor raise money for the parish; the chalice can't be sold legitimately to raise money directly. (The chalice is meant to be real; the very obviously fake chalice shown on the cover of this edition does the story no favours.)

In his long history, Simon Templar points out several times that he is not a detective, usually before solving a mystery. The Unsaintly Santa is definitely a mystery, and Simon is definitely detecting. Set in Cambridge just before Christmas, the puzzle is to work out the identity of a killer dressed as Santa. Unlike some of the earlier attempts at detecting (where Simon's method is basically to accuse each person until the right one is exposed), this works quite well as a puzzle - but there very little need for it to be a Saint story.

For the reader, this is one of the best of the late Saint books. My rating: 8/10.

Friday 29 March 2019

Leslie Charteris: The Saint and the Templar Treasure (1978)

Edition: Coronet, 1978
Review number: 1517

Another late Saint novel, written by Donne Avenell and Graham Weaver in the days when Leslie Charteris was editing new entries in the series rather than writing them himself.

It feels like a somewhat trite idea that Simon Templar should become involved with the Knights Templar, but in fact the way it is handled is competent, if a little clich├ęd for a thriller setup - Simon gives a lift to a couple of young men heading for a French vineyard to work in the summer, and gets there to discover that someone has set the barn on fire. The vineyard is at a house which was originally one of the last Templar castles to remain in the hands of the knights after the suppression of the order by the French king in 1307, and suspected by some to hold the hidden Templar "missing" treasure (while more sober individuals suspect that the treasure never existed in the first place, and that the riches of the order were exaggerated).

While the book is satisfying as a thriller, it doesn't really read like a Saint book. It could almost be any late 1970s British thriller writer. The early Saint stories were unique, standing out from the crowd (even if they had obvious debts to Dornford Yates and Sapper), and Leslie Charteris was an expert at maintaining this specialness. It was partly that he made Simon Templar a genuinely charming character, rather than the direct man of action favoured by many other writers. That is really what is missing here; Simon Templar just isn't Simon Templar by 1978.

My rating: 6/10.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Leslie Charteris: The Saint in Trouble (1978)

Edition: Coronet Books, 1978
Review number: 1516

Another compilation of stories which originally were TV episodes of Return of the Saint, The Saint in Trouble comprises The Imprudent Professor (by Terence Feely) and The Red Sabbath (by John Kruse), both adapted from the TV scripts by Graham Weaver.

In the first story, Simon Templar is asked to look out for the safety of Professor Maclett by his daughter, in the glamorous setting of Cannes. Maclett is the centre of a lot of attention, being of interest to both British and Russian spies, and the story is a hectic series of encounters between the various parties involved and the Saint. Even if only ranked against the other TV adaptations, The Imprudent Professor is not a high quality story. It seems to be Saint-by-numbers - a location which would have been exotic in 1978, beautiful women, Saintly tricks, and Simon sorting everything out in the end.

The Red Sabbath is better. It follows on directly from The Imprudent Professor, as Simon disembarks in London from the plane he took in Cannes at the end of the first story, and is accosted by men who take him to talk to an Israeli intelligence officer. This leads to Simon hunting an Arab terrorist through London, a task he invests in personally. It is perhaps more typical of other thrillers of the second half of the seventies than of the Saint oeuvre, though the nature of the story reminds the reader that Arab terrorists are not new in fiction post 9/11.

Averaging out my ratings for the two stories, I would give The Saint in Trouble a solid 5/10.