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Leslie Charteris's The Saint Steps In

Peter Robinson's introduction for

‘Sanctity does have its rewards.’ Whenever I think of the Saint, I can’t help but remember those magical Saturday mornings of my adolescence. In the early sixties, one of the highlights of my week was a Saturday morning visit to Stringers Book Exchange, in the bustling Kirkgate Market in Leeds. I would wander down the aisles listening to the stall holders shouting out their sales pitches for housewares and bolts of cloth, assailed on all sides by the smells of slightly rotten fruit and vegetables, perhaps stopping to pick up the latest Record Song Book or Melody Maker at the news stand, then I would wander on past the glistening slabs of marbled red meat displayed on the butchers’ stalls, and finally get to Stringers, where box after box of paperback books lay spread out on the trestle tables. The system was simple: Whatever you bought, you could bring back when you had finished it and get half the price you paid for it against a new purchase. Even back then, I liked to hang on to most of the books I bought, so I don’t think I took full advantage of the exchange feature. I was usually on the lookout for anything exciting – horror stories, spy stories, science fiction and crime thrillers, mostly. One of my favourites was the Saint. My eagle eye was always scanning the stacks for the stick figure with the halo, and I’m quite certain that The Saint Steps In was among one of the many Leslie Charteris books I bought there and didn’t take back to exchange. For me, the Saint beats his countless competitors – the Toff, the Baron, Sexton Blake, Bulldog Drummond et al –hands down, and he has remained one of the most enduring and best loved figures in popular culture. I wish I still had my tattered old Saint paperback collection today, but after so many years and so many moves, covering two continents, it’s a wonder I have anything left from those days at all. But now, after so many years out of print, when they were available only in obscure omnibus editions, and practically impossible to find at even the most accommodating of second-handbook shops, it’s good to have the whole series coming back in handsome and accessible paperback editions. At last, the Saint receives his due. Many people will remember the TV series, starring Roger Moore, which aired from 1962 to 1969. Good as the series was, and terrific as Sir Roger was in the title role, which fit him far more comfortably than did James Bond, there remains a huge difference between the TV Saint and the character in the books. Though most of the early black and white episodes were based on Charteris’ stories, they were adapted by a number of different screen writers and, as happens in the world of TV, often ended up being changed beyond recognition. The later, colour episodes were almost all based on original scripts, and though the Saint remained elegantly roguish and debonair throughout, he lacked some of the rougher and more foolhardy edges his character demonstrated in the books. The Saint in the books is much more violent, for example. In The Saint Steps In, Simon Templar is quite happy to keep on beating a man to a pulp, and perhaps even to pour boiling water and nitric acid over his feet, to get information, but we are given to believe that he only does that to people he knows would do the same to him! And he swears like a trooper. Charteris never gives us the actual words, of course, but his description of the string of expletives Templar unleashes when he loses a suspect is unmistakable. There was definitely a whiff of the London underworld about Simon Templar when he first emerged in the late 1920s, along with that ‘faint hint of mockery behind his clear blue eyes,’ and it stays with him throughout the series, despite the veneer of civilisation and the expensive tastes. Though he is on the side of the law, he isn’t above bending it to suit his own particular sense of justice, and while he might have played Robin Hood on occasion, his lifestyle is certainly lavish, to say the least! Though television may capture some of the witty banter of Charteris’ dialogue, it cannot reproduce the energy and playfulness of his use of language in general. He clearly loved words, loved puns, alliteration and metaphors, and his books are peppered with them. A lunch at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, for example, becomes, ‘He was driven by pangs of purely prosaic hunger to the Oyster Bar, where he took his time over the massacre of several inoffensive molluscs.’ As teenagers, we used to repeat these phrases to one another, and they never failed to provoke howls of laughter. Leslie Charteris moved to the USA in 1932. His first book to be set there was The Saint in New York (1935), which was followed by a number of European adventures before he returned to the USA for The Saint in Miami (1940), then The Saint Goes West (1942), which immediately precedes The Saint Steps In, which finds him moving between Washington DC, New York and Stamford, Connecticut. The book was originally serialised in Liberty Magazine in 1942, and published in volume form a year later by Hodder in the UK. The plot, such as it is, wouldn’t be out of place in an Alfred Hitchcock movie: North by Northwest, for example. A beautiful but straitlaced and enigmatic young woman called Madeline Gray comes to ask for Simon Templar’s help when she receives a threatening note. It appears that her father has invented a form of synthetic rubber that would be useful for the war effort – not to mention immensely profitable to whoever possesses it after the war – and she wants to make sure it ends up in the right hands. The formula becomes what Hitchcock called the ‘McGuffin,’ the highly sought after documents or plans that set the events of the plot in motion. Everybody wants them, but we don’t always know why, or even what they are. Soon, Templar gets a threatening note too, and then there is a scuffle in the street when it appears that someone is trying to abduct Madeline. When Templar and Madeline get to Stamford, they find that her father is missing, and then the plot thickens . . . In contrast to Madeline Gray, we also meet the rather less wholesome Andrea Quennel, who has ‘the build and beauty and colouring that Wagner was probably dreaming of before the divas took over.’ Charteris clearly enjoyed writing his descriptions of Andrea, especially her clothes, and this is where he gets to show off his love of metaphor to best advantage. ‘She wore a soft creamy sweater that clung like suds to every curve of her upper sculpture, and her lips were full and inviting.’ Charteris also has an eye for the nuances. Later in the book, Andrea wears a kind of dress that ‘would get by anywhere between a ballroom and a boudoir and still always have a faint air of belonging somewhere else.’ Throughout the book, Andrea offers the Saint anything he wants, and Madeline withholds herself. By the time of the events recounted in The Saint Steps In (1943), Simon Templar is ruing the fact that he is now far more widely known than he used to be. This he blames on the war. Instead of donning a military uniform in order to serve the Allies against the Axis powers, he has so far worked mostly behind the scenes, and has had to forge working relationships with government departments and security agencies he would once have shied away from. His new-found fame doesn’t seem to do him much harm, although he laments being ‘almost legal,’ as he still manages to carry on much as he likes. The only difference is that now he does it with the cooperation of the authorities. In The Saint Steps In, he even works with the F.B.I. How ironic Inspector Teal would find that! The presence of the war permeates The Saint Steps In, even from a distance, holding it together and providing some of its more serious moments, as when Templar contrasts the peace and beauty of New England with the distant horrors of war, the slaughter going on in Europe and the Far East. As he puts it, with characteristic understatement, ‘all that the paranoia of an unsuccessful house-painter was trying to destroy.’ Templar also becomes quite eloquent in an argument towards the end of the book, when he argues that most Americans only perceive the war as a distant event that doesn’t impinge too much on their daily lives because they haven’t felt its effects at first hand, as London did in the blitz. One wonders here where Charteris’ voice ends and Templar’s begins. Like most of the Saint stories, The Saint Steps In is a novel of adventure, mixing mystery and suspense with a fair amount of action and snappy dialogue in the vein of Raymond Chandler, whose The Lady in the Lake came out the same year. Also around the same time, RKO Pictures had more or less plagiarised the Saint for the movies and rechristened him the Falcon, with George Sanders (an ex-movie Saint) in the title role. Oddly enough, the third Falcon film, The Falcon Takes Over (1942), was based on Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely – so, in a strange way, the Saint became Philip Marlowe, however briefly! Unlike Marlowe, though, Simon Templar doesn’t have the dubious respectability of a private detective’s licence; he does, however, have the same sense of himself as an adventurer, a sort of knight errant, as a man who, in Chandler’s words, is ‘a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it . . . The best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.’ He is, after all, the Saint.

A short story by the author of The Saint series, Leslie Charteris

The Uncritical Publisher

Even the strongest men have their weak moments. Peter Quentin once wrote a book. Many young men do, but usually with more disastrous results. Moreover he did it without saying a word to anyone, which is perhaps even more uncommon; and even the Saint did not hear about it until after the crime had been committed. ‘Next time you’re thinking of being rude to me,’ said Peter Quentin, on that night of revelation, ‘please remember that you’re talking to a budding novelist whose work has been compared to Dumas, Tolstoy, Conan Doyle and others.’ Simon Templar choked over his highball. ‘Only pansies bud,’ he said severely. ‘Novelists fester. Of course, it’s possible to be both.’ ‘I mean it,’ insisted Peter seriously. ‘I was keeping it quiet until I heard the verdict, and I had a letter from the publishers today.’ There was no mistaking his earnestness; and the Saint regarded him with affectionate gloom. His vision of the future filled him with overwhelming pessimism. He had seen the fate of other young men – healthy, upright young men who had had a book published. He had seen them tread the downhill path of pink shirts, velvet coats, long hair, quill pens, cocktail parties and beards, until finally they sank into the awful limbos of Bloomsbury and were no longer visible to the naked eye. The prospect of such a doom for anyone like Peter Quentin, who had been with him in so many bigger and better crimes, cast a shadow of great melancholy across his spirits. ‘Didn’t Kathleen try to stop you?’ he asked. ‘Of course not,’ said Peter proudly. ‘She helped me. I owe—’ ‘—it all to her,’ said the Saint cynically. ‘All right. I know the line. But if you ever come out with “My Work” within my hearing, I shall throw you under a bus... You’d better let me see this letter. And order me some more Old Curio while I’m reading it – I need strength.’ He took the document with his fingertips, as if it were unclean, and opened it out on the bar. But after his first glance at the letter-head his twinkling blue eyes steadied abruptly, and he read the epistle through with more than ordinary interest. Dear Sir, We have now gone into your novel THE GAY ADVENTURER, and our readers report that it is very entertaining and ably written, with the verve of Dumas, the dramatic power of Tolstoy, and ingenuity of Conan Doyle. We shall therefore be delighted to set up same in best small pica type to form a volume of about 320 p.p., machine on good antique paper, bind in red cloth with title in gold lettering, and put up in specially designed artistic wrapper, at cost to yourself of only £600 (Six Hundred Pounds) and to publish same at our own expense in the United Kingdom at a net price of 15/ (Fifteen Shillings); and believe it will form a most acceptable and popular volume which should command a wide sale. We will further agree to send you on date of publication twelve presentation copies and to send copies for review to all principal magazines and newspapers; and further to pay you a royalty of 25% (twenty-five per cent) on all copies sold of this Work. The work can be put in hand immediately on receipt of your acceptance of these terms. Trusting to hear from you at your earliest convenience, We beg to remain, dear Sir, Faithfully yours, for HERBERT G. PARSTONE & Co. Herbert G. Parstone, Managing Director Simon folded the letter and handed it back with a sigh of relief. ‘Okay, Peter,’ he said cheerfully. ‘I bought that one. What’s the swindle, and can I come in on it?’ ‘I don’t know of any swindle,’ said Peter puzzledly. ‘What do you mean?’ The Saint frowned. ‘D’you mean to tell me you sent your book to Parstone in all seriousness?’ ‘Of course I did. I saw an advertisement of his in some literary paper, and I don’t know much about publishers—’ ‘You’ve never heard of him before?’ ‘No.’ Simon picked up his glass and strengthened himself with a deep draught. ‘Herbert G. Parstone,’ he said, ‘is England’s premier exponent of the publishing racket. Since you don’t seem to know it, Peter, let me tell you that no reputable publisher in this or any other country publishes books at the author’s expense, except an occasional highly technical work which goes out for posterity rather than profit. I gather that your book is by no means technical. Therefore you don’t pay the publisher: he pays you – and if he’s any use he stands you expensive lunches as well.’ ‘But Parstone offers to pay—’ ‘A twenty-five per cent royalty. I know. Well, if you were something like a bestseller you might get that; but on a first novel no publisher would give you more than ten, and then he’d probably lose money. After six months Parstone would probably send you a statement showing a sale of two hundred copies, you’d get a cheque from him for thirty-seven pounds ten, and that’s the last trace you’d see of your six hundred quid. He’s simply trading on the fact that one out of every three people you meet thinks he could write a book if he tried, one out of every three of ’em try it, and one out of every three of those tries to get it published. ‘The very fact that a manuscript is sent to him tells him that the author is a potential sucker, because anyone who goes into the writing business seriously takes the trouble to find out a bit about publishers before he starts slinging his stuff around. The rest of his game is just playing on the vanity of mugs. And the mugs – mugs like yourself, Peter – old gents with political theories, hideous women with ghastly poems, schoolgirls with nauseating love stories – rush up to pour their money into his lap for the joy of seeing their repulsive tripe in print. I’ve known about Herbert for many years, old lad, but I never thought you’d be the sap to fall for him.’ ‘I don’t believe you,’ said Peter glumly. An elderly mouse-like man who was drinking at the bar beside him coughed apologetically and edged bashfully nearer. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said diffidently, ‘but your friend’s telling the truth.’ ‘How do you know?’ asked Peter suspiciously. ‘I can usually guess when he’s telling the truth – he makes a face as if it hurt him.’ ‘He isn’t pulling your leg this time, sir,’ said the man. ‘I happen to be a proof-reader at Parstone’s.’ The surprising thing about coincidences is that they so often happen. The mouse-like man was one of those amazing accidents on which the fate of nations may hinge, but there was no logical reason why he should not have been drinking at that bar as probably as at any other hostel in the district. And yet there is no doubt that if Mr Herbert Parstone could have foreseen the accident he would have bought that particular public house for the simple pleasure of closing it down lest any such coincidence should happen; but unhappily for him Mr Herbert Parstone was not a clairvoyant. This proof-reader – the term, by the way, refers to the occupation and not necessarily to the alcoholic content of the man –had been with Parstone for twelve years, and he was ready for a change. ‘I was with Parstone when he was just a small jobbing printer,’ he said, ‘before he took up this publishing game. That’s all he is now, really – a printer. But he’s going to have to get along without me. In the last three years I’ve taken one cut after another, till I don’t earn enough money to feed myself properly; and I can’t stand it any longer. I’ve got four more months on my contract, but after that I’m going to take another job.’ ‘Did you read my book?’ asked Peter. The man shook his head. ‘Nobody read your book, sir – if you’ll excuse my telling you. It was just put on a shelf for three weeks, and after that Parstone sent you his usual letter. That’s what happens to everything that’s sent in to him. If he gets his money, the book goes straight into the shop, and the proof-reader’s the first man who has to wade through it. Parstone doesn’t care whether it’s written in Hindustani.’ ‘But surely,’ protested Peter half-heartedly, ‘he couldn’t carry on a racket like that in broad daylight and get away with it?’ The reader looked at him with a rather tired smile on his mouse-like features. ‘It’s perfectly legal, sir. Parstone publishes the book. He prints copies and sends them around. It isn’t his fault if the reviewers won’t review it and the booksellers won’t buy it. He carries out his legal undertaking. But it’s a dirty business.’ After a considerably longer conversation, in the course of which a good deal more Scotch was consumed, Peter Quentin was convinced. He was so crestfallen on the way home that Simon took pity on him. ‘Let me read this opus,’ he said, ‘if you’ve got a spare copy. Maybe it isn’t so lousy, and if there’s anything in it we’ll send it along to some other place.’ He had the book the next day; and after ploughing through the first dozen pages his worst fears were realised. Peter Quentin was not destined to take his place in the genealogy of literature with Dumas, Tolstoy and Conan Doyle. The art of writing was not in him. His spelling had a grand simplicity that would have delighted the more progressive orthographists, his grammatical constructions followed in the footsteps of Gertrude Stein, and his punctuation marks seemed to have more connection with intervals for thought and opening beer-bottles than with the requirements of syntax. Moreover, like most first novels, it was embarrassingly personal. It was this fact which made Simon follow it to the bitter end, for the hero of the story was one ‘Ivan Grail, the Robbin Hood of modern crime,’ who could without difficulty be identified with the Saint himself, his ‘beutiful wife’, and ‘Frank Morris his acomplis whos hard-bitten featurs consealed a very clever brain and witt’. Simon Templar swallowed all the flattering evidences of hero-worship that adorned the untidy pages, and actually blushed. But after he had reached the conclusion – inscribed ‘FINNIS’ in triumphant capitals – he did some heavy thinking. Later on he saw Peter again. ‘What was it that bit your features so hard?’ he asked. ‘Did you try to kiss an alligator?’ Peter turned pink. ‘I had to describe them somehow,’ he said defensively. ‘You’re too modest,’ said the Saint, after inspecting him again. ‘They were not merely bitten – they were thoroughly chewed.’ ‘Well, what about the book?’ said Peter hopefully. ‘Was it any good?’ ‘It was lousy,’ Simon informed him, with the privileged candour of friendship. ‘It would have made Dumas turn in his grave. All the same, it may be more readable after I’ve revised it for you. And perhaps we will let Comrade Parstone publish it after all.’ Peter blinked. ‘But I thought—’ ‘I have an idea,’ said the Saint. ‘Parstone has published dud books too long. It’s time he had a good one. Will you get your manuscript back from him, Peter – tell him you want to make a few corrections, and that you’ll send him his money and let him print it. For anyone who so successfully conceals a very clever brain and wit,’ he added cruelly, ‘there are much more profitable ways of employing them than writing books, as you ought to know.’ For two weeks after that the Saint sat at his typewriter for seven hours a day, hammering out page after page of neat manuscript at astonishing speed. He did not merely revise Peter Quentin’s story – he re-wrote it from cover to cover, and the result would certainly not have been recognised by its original creator. The book was sent in again from his own address, and consequently Peter did not see the proofs. Simon Templar read them himself; and his ribs were aching long before he had finished. The Gay Adventurer, by Peter Quentin, was formally pushed out upon a callous world about two months later. The Times did not notice it, the library buyers did not refill their fountain pens to sign the order forms, the lynx-eyed scouts of Hollywood did not rush in with open contracts; but nevertheless it was possible for a man with vast patience and dogged determination to procure a copy, by which achievement Mr Parstone had fulfilled the letter of his contract. Simon Templar did not need to exercise patience and determination to obtain his copy, because the author’s presentation dozen came to his apartment; and it happened that Peter Quentin came there on the same morning. Peter noticed the open parcel of books, and fell on them at once, whinnying like an eager stallion. But he had scarcely glanced over the first page when he turned to the Saint with wrathful eyes. ‘This isn’t my book at all,’ he shouted indignantly. ‘We’ll call it a collaboration if you like,’ said the Saint generously. ‘But I thought you might as well have the credit. My name is so famous already—’ Peter had been turning the pages frantically. ‘But this – this is awful!’ he expostulated. ‘It’s – it’s—’ ‘Of course it is,’ agreed the Saint. ‘And that’s why you must never tell anyone that I had anything to do with it. When the case comes to court, I shall expect you to perjure yourself blue in the face on that subject.’ After the revelations that have been made in the early stages of this story, no one will imagine that on the same morning Mr Herbert Parstone was pacing feverishly up and down his office, quivering with anxiety and parental pride, stopping every now and then to peer at the latest circulation figures rushed in by scurrying office-boys and bawling frantic orders to an excited staff of secretaries, salesmen, shippers, clerks, exporters and truck drivers. As a matter of fact, even the most important and reputable publishers do not behave like that. They are usually too busy concentrating on mastering that loose shoulder and smooth follow-through which carries the ball well over that nasty bunker on the way to the fourteenth. Mr Herbert Parstone was not playing golf, because he had a bad cold; and he was in his office when the Saint called. The name on the card that was sent in to him was unfamiliar, but Mr Parstone never refused to see anyone who was kind enough to walk into his parlour. He was a short ginger-haired man with the kind of stomach without which no morning coat and gold watch-chain can be seen to their best advantage; and the redness of his prominent nose was not entirely due to his temporary affliction. ‘Mr Teblar?’ he said, with great but obstructed geniality. ‘Please sit dowd. I dode thig I’ve had the pleasure of beetig you before, have I?’ ‘I don’t think so,’ said the Saint pleasantly. ‘But any real pleasure is worth waiting for.’ He took the precious volume which he was carrying from under his arm, and held it up. ‘Did you publish this?’ Mr Parstone looked at it. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that is one of our publicashuds. A bost excelledd ad ibportad book, if I bay perbid byself to say so. A book, I bight say, which answers problebs which are dear to every wud of us today.’ ‘It will certainly have some problems to answer,’ said the Saint; ‘and I expect they’ll be dear enough. Do you know the name of the principal character in this book? Do you know who this biography is alleged to be about?’ ‘Biography?’ stammered Mr Parstone, blinking at the cover. ‘The book is a dovel. A work of fickshud. It is clearly explaid—’ ‘The book is supposed to be a biography,’ said the Saint. ‘And do you know the name of the principal character?’ Mr Parstone’s brow creased with thought. ‘Pridcipal character?’ he repeated. ‘Led be see, led be see. I ought to dough, oughtud I?’ He blew his nose several times, sniffed, sighed, and spread out his hand uncertainly. ‘Iddn it abazing?’ he said. ‘The dabe was od the tip of by tug, but dow I cadd rebember id.’ ‘The name is Simon Templar,’ said the Saint grimly; and Mr Parstone sat up. ‘What?’ he ejaculated. Simon opened the book and showed him the name in plain print. Then he took it away to a chair and lighted a cigarette. ‘Rather rude of you, wasn’t it?’ he murmured. ‘Well, by dear Bister Teblar,’ said Parstone winningly. ‘I trust you are dot thinkig that any uncomblibendary referedds was intended. Far frob id. These rebarkable coidcidedces will happud. Ad yet it is dot every yug bad of your age who fides his dabe preserved for posterity id such a work as that. The hero of that book, as I rebember him, was a fellow of outstaddig charb—’ ‘He was a low criminal,’ said the Saint virtuously. ‘Your memory is failing you, Herbert. Let me read you some of the best passages.’ He turned to a page he had marked. ‘Listen to this, Herbert,’ he said. ‘“Simon Templar was never particular about how he made money, so long as he made it. The drug traffic was only one of his many sources of income, and his conscience was never touched by the thought of the hundreds of lives he ruined by his insatiable avarice. Once, in a night club, he pointed out to me a fine and beautiful girl on whose lovely face the ravages of dope were already beginning to make their mark. ‘I’ve had two thousand pounds from her since I started her on the stuff,’ he said gloatingly, ‘and I’ll have five thousand more before it kills her.’ I could multiply instances of that kind by the score, and refrain only from fear of nauseating my readers. Sufficient, at least, has already been said to show what an unspeakable ruffian was this man who called himself the Saint.”’ However hard it might have been for Mr Parstone to place the name of Simon Templar, he was by no means ignorant of the Saint. His watery eyes popped halfway out of their sockets, and his jaw hardened at the same time. ‘So you’re the Saind?’ he said. ‘Of course,’ murmured Simon. ‘Id your own words, a low cribidal—’ Simon shook his head. ‘Oh, no, Herbert,’ he said. ‘By no means as low as that. My reputation may be bad, but it’s only rumour. You may whisper it to your friends, but the law doesn’t allow you to put it in writing. That’s libel. And you couldn’t even get Chief Inspector Teal to testify that my record would justify anything like the language this book of yours has used about me. ‘My sins were always fairly idealistic, and devoted to the squashing of beetles like yourself – not to trading in drugs and grinding the faces of the poor. But you haven’t heard anything like the whole of it. Listen to some more.’ He turned to another selected passage. ‘“The Saint”,’ he read, ‘“always seemed to derive a peculiar malicious pleasure from robbing and swindling those who could least afford to lose. To my dying day, I shall be haunted by the memory of the fiendish glee which distorted his face when he told me that he had stolen five pounds from a woman with seven children, who had scraped and saved for months to get the money together. He accepted the money from her as a fee for trying to trace the grave of her father, who had been reported ‘missing’ in 1943. Of course he never made any attempt to carry out his share of the bargain. He played this cruel trick on several occasions, and always with the same sadistic pleasure, which I believe meant far more to him than the actual cash which he derived from it.”’ ‘Is that id the book too?’ asked Parstone hoarsely. ‘Naturally,’ said the Saint. ‘That’s what I’m reading it from. And there are lots more interesting things. Look here. “The bogus companies floated by Templar, in which thousands upon thousands of widows and orphans were deprived—”’ ‘Wait!’ interrupted Parstone tremblingly. ‘This is terrible – a terrible coidcideds. The book will be withdrawd at wuds. Hardly eddywud will have had tibe to read it. Ad if eddy sball cobbensation I cad give—’ Simon closed his book with a smile and laid it on Mr Parstone’s desk. ‘Shall we say fifty thousand pounds?’ he suggested affably. Mr Parstone’s face reddened to the verge of an apoplectic stroke, and he brought up his handkerchief with shaking hands. ‘How buch?’ he whispered. ‘Fifty thousand pounds,’ repeated the Saint. ‘After all, that’s a very small amount of damages to ask for a libel like this. If the case has to go to court, I think it will be admitted that never in the whole history of modern law has such a colossal libel been put on paper. If there is any crime under the sun of which I’m not accused in that book, I’ll sit down right now and eat it. And there are three hundred and twenty pages of it – eighty thousand words of continuous and unbridled insult. For a thing like that, Herbert, I think fifty thousand pounds is pretty cheap.’ ‘You could’n get it,’ said Parstone harshly. ‘It’s the author’s liability—’ ‘I know that clause,’ answered the Saint coolly, ‘and you may be interested to know that it has no legal value whatever. In a successful libel action, the author, printer and publisher are joint tortfeasors, and none of them can indemnify the other. Ask your solicitor. As a matter of fact,’ he added prophetically, ‘I don’t expect I shall be able to recover anything from the author, anyway. Authors are usually broke. But you are both the printer and the publisher, and I’m sure I can collect from you.’ Mr Parstone stared at him with blanched lips. ‘But fifty thousad pouds is ibpossible,’ he whined. ‘It would ruid be!’ ‘That’s what I mean to do, dear old bird,’ said the Saint gently. ‘You’ve gone on swindling a lot of harmless idiots for too long already, and now I want you to see what it feels like when it happens to you.’ He stood up, and collected his hat. ‘I’ll leave you the book,’ he said, ‘in case you want to entertain yourself some more. But I’ve got another copy; and if I don’t receive your cheque by the first post on Friday morning it will go straight to my solicitors. And you can’t kid yourself about what that will mean.’ For a long time after he had gone Mr Herbert Parstone sat quivering in his chair. And then he reached out for the book and began to skim through its pages. And with every page his livid face went greyer. There was no doubt about it. Simon Templar had spoken the truth. The book was the most monumental libel that could ever have found its way into print. Parstone’s brain reeled before the accumulation of calumnies which it unfolded. His furious ringing of the bell brought his secretary running. ‘Fide me that proof-reader!’ he howled. ‘Fide be the dab fool who passed this book!’ He flung the volume on to the floor at her feet. ‘Sed hib to be at wuds! I’ll show hib. I’ll bake hib suffer. By God, I’ll—’ The other things that Mr Parstone said he would do cannot be recorded in such a respectable publication as this. His secretary picked up the book and looked at the title. ‘Mr Timmins left yesterday – he was the man you fired four months ago,’ she said; but even then Mr Parstone was no wiser.

Chapter One

A MOST WANTED MAN, by John le Carré

Read the first chapter of John le Carré's A MOST WANTED MAN.

Anne Graham Lotz

Anne Graham Lotz is called the 'best preacher in the family' by her father, Billy Graham. She speaks around the globe with the wisdom and authority of years spent studying God's Word, and the New York Times named Anne one of the five most influential evangelists of her generation. She is a best-selling and award-winning author of fourteen books, including her most recent, Wounded by God's People. www.annegrahamlotz.org.

Chapter One: A Morning in Vermillion

SHADES OF GREY, by Jasper Fforde

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Chapter One

RIVER OF SMOKE, by Amitav Ghosh

Read the first chapter of Amitav Ghosh's RIVER OF SMOKE, the second book of his Ibis trilogy.

Chapter One

THE NOBODIES ALBUM, by Carolyn Parkhurst

Read the first chapter of Carolyn Parkhurst's THE NOBODIES ALBUM.

Chapter One: The House of Punk Sleep

WIDE AWAKE, by Patricia Morrisroe

Read an excerpt of the first chapter of Patricia Morrisroe's brilliant memoir about insomnia, WIDE AWAKE.