|A review of the Saint's later career
||[Sep. 17th, 2009|12:17 am]
I know most of us prefer the original, Charteris-written Saint stories, but when there is a dearth of them at the library, what is one to do? Bite the (metaphorical) bullet and read the adaptations, of course!
The Saint on TV, The Saint Abroad, The Saint Returns, and Catch the Saint were all collaborations with Fleming Lee, starting with The Saint on TV, written in 1968. With the exception of Catch the Saint, every story was an adaption of an episode from the Roger Moore TV show. Not having seen the show, the plots were entirely new to me; I don't know whether they were seriously altered from their TV form.
On the whole, I wasn't immensely impressed; the collaborations have their own flavour, and the whimsical humour that I so love about the older Saint books seems to be missing. (The heroines, too, aren't anything special. I am of the humble opinion that the quality of Charteris' - or his ghostwriters' - heroines declined steadily after the 1950s. How on earth does Simon tolerate flighty, clueless, abominably ignorant females after the likes of Pat Holm and Loretta Page?) But they're still Saint stories, and Fleming Lee certainly did a good job writing about another author's character. I probably won't be adding these to my collection anytime soon, but they're pleasant light reading. :)
The Saint Abroad
"The Art Collectors": In which Simon Templar goes to Paris, visits a gallery, rescues a Damsel in Distress who just so happens to be selling five lost Renaissance paintings taken from Italy during WWII, knocks out a few unorthodox art collectors, and plays an extended game of painting-painting-who's-got-the-painting with the ungodly. Of course, Damsels in Distress aren't always exactly what they seem...
"The Persistent Patriots": While returning from a small African country, Simon saves its Prime Minister from an assassin's bullet. I'm somewhat foggy on the actual plot details, but in a nutshell, the Prime Minister is trying to put across a political deal, he's being blackmailed, and there's a plot going on to supposedly bring freedom to the aforementioned small country...but which will instead bring a bloodbath, which Simon points out in about so many words. I, not being of the hippie type, was rather pleased to see the Saint bringing hippie-ness down a peg or three...
Catch the Saint
These novellas weren't strictly my favorites. However, they appealed to me since they were intentionally written not as contemporary stories, but rather as adventures from the Saint's prewar years. In a foreword, Charteris explains that "the time seems to have come when Simon Templar cannot plausibly go on being contemporary", and that "the only alternative to taking him into the realms of science fiction for a miraculous rejuvenation...is to delve into his past for hitherto untold adventures of his earlier years - which, indeed, some loyal followers maintain were his best."
I heartily agree. I appreciate not having to engage in the mental gymnastics of pretending the Saint is still in a pre-1960 (or at least pre-1970!) world when the settings are firmly establishing him in the 1960s. Now, the Saint adapts to different decades better than other series characters I'm fond of, but it's still nice to have him back in the Golden Era where he belongs.
One minor quibble: the word blitzkrieg is used. Blitzkrieg, or "lighting war", wasn't exactly a common term prior to 1939. But 'tis a small complaint. :)
"The Masterpiece Merchant": I preferred this story to the next one, but can I remember the plot details? No. *smacks head* The gist of it is that a country girl, having just arrived in London, finds that her artist brother has disappeared. She's terrified and puzzled by men who claim to be with a shadowy government agency, and is in quite a state when Simon stumbles upon her and decides that he's found a genuine maiden in need of rescuing. He finds that her brother had some unique artistic talents, and they're off to rescue him as well...
"The Adoring Socialite": One of Simon's not-for-profit ventures finds him in Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love" that's anything but. After stumbling upon, and accidentally outing, an undercover detective, the Saint takes it upon himself to hunt down the mob boss responsible for a grisly reign of corruption. There weren't too many twists and turns here, but the finale tweaked the usual happy ending just enough to make it different.
The Saint on TV
"The Death Game": Why yes, it is a rehash of the oft-used concept behind The Most Dangerous Game. It was very obviously betrayed as such from the beginning, but the first 2/3 of the book seemed to promise more than the usual cliched plot. Simon finds himself lured into being the unwitting target of a "death game" played by university students, who proceed to "kill" him in order to collect a prize - which turns out to be a trip to the Bahamas for the best "assassins" from colleges all over the continent. Simon is amused, at least until murder strikes - for real. Suspecting a larger hand at work behind the Death Game fad, he takes the victim's place on the Bahamian trip.
Unfortunately, the ending didn't live up to the beginning. (I'm not really spoiling anything by this, trust me.) With all the build-up about creative methods of killing being so crucial to the Death Game, I found it disappointing that the same creativity wouldn't be utilized at the last. We've seen this one before...
The main highlight of the story (for me) was the Saint's reaction to some psychological tests being administered at the Bahamian retreat. *glee*
"The Power Artist": The Saint meets hippies! No, seriously. In a plot that marginally ties into the previous story, Simon braves the artsier districts of London in an attempt to find who's trying to frame him for murder (and, um, dispose of the body). Circumstances force him to drag along one of the district's artsier residents. (Inexplicably, she makes life-size plaster dummies, has christened them with names, and seems to consider them her friends. I have no idea what sparked this particular idea in the author's mind, and I'm really not sure I want to know.) Simon engages in some creative Teal-baiting, and - in an inspired moment - cleverly manipulates natural hippie proclivities into a force to further his plans.
If for nothing else, it's worth reading for Simon's opinions on both modern art and chain restaurants.
The Saint Returns
"The Dizzy Daughter": Poor Simon. All he wanted was a peaceful fishing trip in the countryside, but Fate had other plans - plans that came crashing into his pleasant day with a very fast car and a very confusing young woman...who insists she's Adolf Hitler's daughter, escaping from the remnants of a group of SS men! Simon smells something even fishier than he could have caught with line and reel, and proceeds to get himself way more involved than he really wants to be. While not outstanding, this is the better of the two stories here, and Simon - in a happy twist - gets to walk away with some unexpected boodle.
"The Gadget Lovers": With a little time to spare before his flight leaves West Berlin, Simon enters a "bunny club" (it's a very minor part of the story), arriving just in time to thwart the assassination of a British intelligence officer. One thing leads to another, and the Saint finds himself freelancing for the shadowy side of government. He soon finds himself forced (well, kinda...) to take on a Soviet colonel's identity and collaborate with Soviet intelligence to discover who's trying to foment an all-out bloodbath between East and West.
I hate to say it, but this was probably the least satisfying story, in my opinion. In all the Fleming Lee/Charteris collaborations, an undue emphasis is put on the obligatory female love interests. But this one was by far the worst on the lovey-dovey-gaga-eyes quotient. :P
I also found a full-length novel, this one not written by Lee, but by Christopher Short.
Regretfully, it turned out to be the one truly awful book I've read to date: The Saint and the Hapsburg Necklace. I regret to state that I didn't finish it. It's set in Austria shortly after the Anschluss, but before Britain entered the war, which would place it during 1938-39. I was looking forward to a rousingly good tale of The Saint vs. Nazis...and was sorely disappointed. I stopped after the first few chapters and proceeded to flip through the rest. The passages I read were very slow and stilted; the author (Short) clearly hadn't picked up on the unique cadences of Charteris' writing style. It's not surprising that Short only wrote one Saint book. Nearly every page I read found me mentally reaching for a red pencil, which is a less than ideal way to read an adventure story. Frankly, I can't believe this one made it past Charteris - or his editors!
If one insists upon slogging through it, there is one brief flicker of Saintliness in the way he handles an SS guard (and simultaneously diverts the rest of the troops). But it's a very short passage, and hardly worth the trouble. As a short story, it could have made it. Boring phrases and improbable plotlines can be tolerable in a short story. Extended to novel length, the problems magnify, and the result isn't very entertaining.