Friday, June 10, 2011

Swimming With the Saint, or: A Halo Ain’t a Life Preserver!

The Saint Overboard, one of only a handful of full-length Simon Templar novels (the rest being short story collections), is another great thriller from Leslie Charteris.  It is hard for me to say the novel has flaws.  It does not.  The story is carefully crafted.  The scenery is carefully detailed.  The dialogue and description are carefully written.  The characters are carefully developed.  The underwater scenes are tense and terrific.  The ending is a kicker—Mike Hammer would be proud of how Templar disposes of his nemesis.  The Saint is not a wimp.  There is nothing about this book that is not 100% up to standard.  But it lacks something.   What it lacks is the humor of other Saint stories—the short stories in particular, and the hilarious antics of The Saint’s Getaway, another of the novels.

Overboard is a much darker Saint adventure, and a lot like The Saint in New York.  In this episode, Templar battles Kurt Vogel, a criminal who searches for sunken ships laden with treasure and steals the treasures before the ships can be properly recovered.  Loretta Page, the “Saint Girl” of the piece, who works for a detective agency tracking Vogel, informs the Saint of the plot after Templar rescues her from one of Vogel’s henchmen.    The Saint weaves his way into Vogel’s confidence to stop him (he is a dreadful chap, after all, and a murderer, too) and to grab some of the treasure for himself (even the happy highwayman needs a paycheck now and then!).   The suspense will make you hold your breath.  You will find Vogel one of the best villains ever written.  He could have been a great arch enemy for Simon Templar; the book could have alternatively been titled The Saint Meets His Match.  He is just plain creepy, guv.

But a serious Saint equals a boring Saint, or at least a less entertaining Saint.  For all its seriousness, this could have been a James Bond novel (imagine Bond on holiday when he stumbles onto the plot and either takes it upon himself or gets permission from Her Majesty's Government to pursue…).  There are only two funny moments. Both are short.

Mr. Charteris Plots Next Novel
I did not read this one as quickly as I have other Saint books; I also did not read New York very quickly as it is similarly dark and humorless.  But both Overboard and New York contain some of the best writing I have ever come across, great sequences you want to frame and study and hope that one day you can write half as well as Charteris.  But neither are my favorite Saint novels.  He does comedy and adventure so well you want the mix every time, as if it were your favorite highball; when he does not provide that mix, you still enjoy it, but know it could have been better.

The Saint Overboard also suffered from a lack of Templar’s Gal Friday, Patricia Holm.  I fell in love with old Pat during The Saint Plays With Fire and The Saint’s Getaway.  They are great together, have a wonderful relationship, and share terrific banter.  But she is missing from quite a few Saint books, and I wish she were not (there is supposedly a story behind her removal from the series but whether or not it is a canonical story I am not sure so we will not mention it here).  Instead, we get a “Saint Girl” and it is not as good.  We know Loretta, like every Bond Girl (except Tiffany Case), will be gone by the next story.

My next Saintly reading will be one of the short story sets; I have two more Saint novels to go through and I will save them for later.  I do not think Patricia Holm appears in either of them, damn and blast.


  1. The most recent "Saint Girl" to appear in a Saint novel was Diamond Tremayne in "Capture the Saint." She reappears, albeit briefly in the forthcoming "The Return of the Saint" novel which also features the return of Nina Walden from "The Saint's Getaway." As for Patricia Holm, she will not be making an appearance in the novel, but she is featured in the forthcoming two-hour TV Movie, THE SAINT IN NEW ORLEANS. I know these things because I wrote Capture the Saint and the upcoming The Return of the Saint, and co-wrote the screenplay for The Saint in New Orleans. I agree about Saint Overboard and Saint in New York being darker, but you must admit the Saint's dialog in his gritty New York adventure is, as I described in The Saint: A Complete History, rather like that of Groucho Marx. As the Saint says in Capture the Saint, "When verbosity is outlawed, only outlaws will be verbose."

  2. Burl,
    Thanks for stopping by and I am delighted to hear Pat will make an appearance in the new movie. That was one HUGE question I had once the casting of Simon Templar's character had been announced (though the name of the actor now escapes me).

    I don't remember Nina Walden from the "Getaway" story. Now I'll have to go back and look.

    When will "Return" be released?