“Pardon me. In the excitement of the moment, and all that sort of thing, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m afraid I’ve had you at a disadvantage. My name is Templar—Simon Templar”—he caught the flash of stark hypnotic fear that blanched the big man’s lips, and grinned even more gently. “You may have heard of me. I am the Saint.”Simon Templar befriends wealthy American, William Valcross, whose son was murdered in the Big Apple. He’s given an offer he can't refuse: a million dollars to go to New York and bring the killer to justice. But it’s no easy task with the corruption that pervades the city’s judicial system. He cleans up the graft by eliminating men from the mafioso’s hierarchy, meticulously working his way to the top to find out the identity of the "The Big Fellow" who is controlling the city.
What struck me about reading this early entry in the series is Simon Templar’s hard-edge. Halfway through the story, he has already killed three gangsters and hijacked a taxi to escape from the police. In the short story adventures from the 1950s and early 60s that I’ve read, Templar is more mild-mannered, almost a gentlemanly Christie style sleuth. Comparatively, this younger version of the Saint kicked some major ass.
But Templar’s chutzpa seemed to be intact from the start. He dresses as a nun to elude the police and kidnaps a detective to convince him they are working toward the same goal. Templar brazenly sends his famous haloed stick figure logo to announce his arrival to the opposition. His employer Valcross asks him why he would do this, making his job even harder. The Saint replies:
“It goes back to some grand times—of which you’ve heard,” he said quietly. “The Saint was a law of his own in those days, and that little drawing stood for battle and sudden death and all manner of mayhem. Some of us live for it—worked for it—fought for it. One of us died for it….There was a time when any man who received a note like I sent to Irboll, with that signature, knew there was nothing more he could do. And since we’re out on this picnic, I’d like things to be the same—even if it’s only for a little while.”This is the first full-length Saint novel that I’ve read, but I had no problem starting here because Charteris ingeniously updates readers in the first chapter with a letter from Scotland Yard warning the New York police chief of his suspicion that the Saint is in town. The letter conveniently rehashes all of the Saint’s adventures from the beginning.
If I had one complaint, it would be that Charteris seemed to pad the story a bit by repeating similar circumstances. In particular, he has to contend with too many villains on his way to the top kingpin. Also, we are reminded a bit too often that the handsome Simon Templar has sparkling blue eyes!
These small gripes aside, this novel is a lot of fun. Charteris had an ability to write with effortless charm similar to the later Ian Fleming. The Saint in New York is highly recommended.
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