I intended to write this introduction wearing my scholar’s cloak, with an academically freighted deconstruction utilizing references to Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, the chivalric code and inevitably, Freud. The erudition of my arguments and analyses would not only elucidate the psycho-ontological motivations behind Simon Templar, but make me look pretty damn smart as well.
Then I picked up one of my ancient copies of Saint stories, selected ‘The Wonderful War’, and read about a banana republic invaded by one man with a delicious vision for justice. I smiled a lot and laughed aloud almost as often. I re-read passages to be tickled yet again. I set the book aside when finished, but had back it in my hands within an hour. In short, I read with the giddy joy of a thirteen-year-old.
Which makes perfect sense, since I was thirteen when I met the Saint. A reader leaning heavily toward the mystery/ suspense genre, I had early immersion in the Bobbsey Twins, Seckatary Hawkins, and the Hardy Boys. I had read them to tatters when my father appeared in my bedroom one evening. ‘I think you’ll like these stories,’ he said, bearing The First Saint Omnibus. ‘They concern a man named Simon Templar, the Saint. They’re more sophisticated than you’re used to, and certainly racier, but I suspect you’ll enjoy that aspect.’ With those cryptic words he set the book in my palms and retreated, singing an odd song about the bells of Hell. Hoping my old man had not gone fully round the bend, I opened the book and, in my own way, have never closed it.
I have read all the Saint sagas, including the three gems in Featuring the Saint, at least a dozen times each. If there is anything I as a writer have taken from my father’s prescient gift – and I’ve taken as much from Leslie Charteris as from John D. MacDonald, Robert Parker and James Lee Burke – it is that a good hero always has a moral code (though it might not be yours or mine), the innocent must be protected, and when the bad get a comeuppance, it should fit the crime.
Oh . . . and beautiful women never detract from a story.
‘The Wonderful War’ is an all-time favourite, boasting nearly all of the hallmarks of a Saint mini-epic: a comely lady, a masterful plan, a Saintly versification, racy quotes regarding the actress and the Bishop, and The Song. Per a good Saint yarn, the malefactors are suitably venal and unattractive and – perhaps most irritating to Simon Templar – rude. All that’s missing is an appearance by Inspector Teal, though I suspect he might not be much at home in a South American bananocracy.
And what grand invention is the country of Pasala . . . Charteris’s setting is a rip-roaringly comic and deviously accurate caricature of the era and locale. The world stops for siesta. The army is five hundred strong, with a general or colonel for every nine men. The navy consists of . . . well, you get the idea.
The Saint stories are not for analysis, I realize, at least not by me. Not for deconstruction or preconstruction or anything akin to psychobabble. They’re simply masterworks of delight, asking only that you pick up the pages of a champion storyteller, hold your breath, and step within.
You don’t analyse joy, you revel in it.