LESLIE CHARTERIS – The Saint in New York. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1935, First published in the UK: Hodder & Stoughton, hardcover, 1935. Reprinted many times, including: Avon T-317 (1950s); IPL, November 1988.

   I have a great fondness for this book, more perhaps, I have to confess, than its intrinsic reading value. Back in the 50s, after a few weeks of checking out “grownup” mysteries from the local library, the Avon edition credited above, itself a later printing, somehow found itself into my hands. It is among the first I ever read in paperback. I may have purchased it myself, based on the cover (shown below), or it may have have been given to me by my grandparents, who were great readers of mysteries and most conveniently lived next door.

   This is a great book for a young teenaged boy to have come across quite serendipitously in the 1950s. Simon Templar (aka The Saint) is a character any boy can immediately identify with: insouciant, carefree, impetuous, daring, and afraid of nothing. He was able to be dragged into any underworld hangout of the worst hoodlums and gangsters that the great city of New York could offer, and act as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

   That The Saint was also the luckiest guy in the world didn’t enter into it, although a recent reading of the IPL edition (also shown) made that abundantly clear to the adult version of me. [Warning: Plot Alerts ahead.] That he was saved (twice!) by a beautiful slip of a girl he had never met before was nothing less than an intoxicating dream come true to a teenaged boy, but something less so to an adult.

   I also wonder, but not for very long, why it didn’t occur to my younger self that a vigilante for hire could come to New York and kill a short list of villains without remorse or more recrimination from the law was not the way the real world should work.

   But Leslie Charteris was the kind of writer who could make you think it should. His often flamboyant overwriting can be difficult to parse if you read his words and sentences one at a time. What I discovered during this most recent re-reading is that if you were to take in large gulps of entire paragraphs all at once, you will be reading the adventures of The Saint exactly as they were meant to be read.