LESLIE CHARTERIS “The National Debt.” Simon Templar “The Saint.” Novella. First published as a non-Saint story in The Thriller, UK, 06 April 1929, as “The Secret of Beacon Inn.” Reprinted in All Star Detective Stories, US, March 1931. Rewritten and collected as a Saint story in the book Alias the Saint (Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, May 1931) and in the US as part of the larger compilation Wanted for Murder by the Doubleday Crime Club in 1931. Reprinted many times in several collections and formats. TV adaptation: As “The Crime of the Century,” The Saint, starring Roger Moore (Season 3, Episode 22; 1965.)

   The history of The Saint over the years is a highly complicated one, and if any of the information above is incorrect, please set me straight. I read this particular story in a paperback entitled Alias the Saint published by Charter in the 1980s, I believe, but as an overall collection, it contains only two of the three stories originally published under that title in the UK in 1931.

   That this was not originally a Saint story, but was cobbled into one when the character proved to be so popular in other stories, helps explains why the Saint spends quite a bit of his tine doing his crime-solving duties under the name of Ramses Smith, as the leading character was so named in the Thriller version.

   Specifics of how he gets onto the trail of a trio of miscreants is not gone into. Suffice it here to say that the three have grandiose plans of some kind, but definitely criminous. To that end they have forced a young female chemist to work on their project with them. How? By drugging her with a doped cigarette, then killing a detective from Scotland Yard and making her believe she did it.

   Enter the Saint. He barges into the inn of the original title where the villains have set up a laboratory for the kidnapped girl to work in. Proving that the direct approach works, and delightfully so, Templar drives up, and improvising as he goes, declares that he’s working for Scotland Yard and if they don’t serve him a meal, he will arrest them all and take them in.

   This is not a whodunit by any means. For the Saint it’s only a matter of “what are they up to?” Before the story ends, he has found out, escaped from a cellar room filled with a deadly gas, and (of course) rescued the girl, all in Leslie Charteris’s usual breezy fashion, glossing over messy details as he goes. The story’s so much fun to read, though, that only nitpickers like me would even bring them up.