November 11, 2012

AND READABILITY REMAINS THE SINGULAR TEST:

The absurd, irresistible Simon Templar lives on : The stories of The Saint - the most enduring of the Clubland Heroes of the 1920s - still prove as preposterous and readable as ever (Allan Massie, 10 Nov 2012, The Telegraph)

The Saint is wholly preposterous; that is part of the charm. His creator, Leslie Charteris, must have known this but, at least in the early books, he delighted in his creation, and wrote with an infectious exuberance, often wittily. (Eventually he became bored with him, and the later books were written by others, merely supervised by Charteris.) He was, despite an education at an English public school and Cambridge, somewhat of an outsider himself, his father being Chinese.

Perhaps this is why the Saint is an anti-establishment figure; unlike the other Clubland Heroes he has no friends in high places. He owes something to Raffles, E  W Hornung's gentleman-cracksman, but Raffles generally eschews violence. One sometimes thinks the Saint's true heirs are the superheroes of the comic books.

Reading the Charteris books must always have required a willing suspension of disbelief. Probability, especially when the Saint finds himself in a tight spot, was never something that concerned his author. Yet, somewhat to my surprise, the books are still enjoyable, principally because they are agreeably inventive and even more agreeably light-hearted. There is violence and there is killing, but it is done in jest, and the blood is only ketchup. [...]

There was never any pretence that they were realistic. Raymond Chandler, tired of the genteel school of mysteries where bodies are found in country-house libraries and murderers employ untraceable poisons, praised Dashiell Hammett for giving murder back to the sort of people who commit it. His opinion may be questioned, for all sorts of people, after all, commit murder. Nevertheless, crime fiction has mostly followed Chandler's route. Death in the modern crime novel is no fun, rarely for laughs. The Saint is different, a court jester of crime - though of course a beautifully dressed jester.

The sign of The Saint, which appears on virtua...

The sign of The Saint, which appears on virtually every edition of every Simon Templar adventure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Posted by at November 11, 2012 7:42 AM
  
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