Sunday, September 24, 2023

A modern-day Robin Hood

Ten years ago I posted:
When in my early teens, having graduated from the Hardy Boys, I consumed the Saint books by Leslie Charteris. I have taken a break from other reading, seeking something undemanding, and chose to see whether I could, so many years later, still enjoy one of those books.
The first Saint I ever read was The Last Hero (1930). While visiting an uncle in Michigan I started reading the paperback, and when our family was about to leave, not having finished, I begged my uncle to let me have it (I was annoying that way). He did, recommending it, as I recall, as "good and bloody."

I own a lot of books. Mysteries have always been one of my enthusiasms and, having discovered an author I enjoy, my inclination has been to continue buying that author's books. I have collections of books by Allingham, Sayers, Buchan, Manning Coles, P.D. James, Elmore Leonard, R. Austin Freeman, Hammett, Dick Frances, John D. MacDonald, and, of course, Conan Doyle, among others. One of my bookcases is entirely devoted to those mysteries and similar genres. Those books, along with some historical fiction, are my primary reading escapism.

The top shelf of that bookcase contains some of my earliest acquisitions. This morning I noticed The First Saint Omnibus. It was an early collection of Leslie Charteris's Saint stories, chosen and with commentary by the author. It was published in 1941 and I must have bought it secondhand, but I don't recall when, or when I last opened it. Charteris published his first Saint book while at university in 1928 and continued until 1983, altogether almost one hundred books in the series. Most that I bought were paperbacks and are now long gone. This is the only Saint book I still have.

The first entry in the Omnibus is titled "The Man Who Was Clever" and begins:
MR "SNAKE" GANNING was neither a great criminal nor a pleasant character, but he is interesting because he was the first victim of the organization led by the man known as the Saint, which was destined in the course of a few months to spread terror through the under-world of London—that ruthless association of reckless young men, brilliantly led, who worked on the side of the Law and who were yet outside the Law. There was to come a time when the mere mention of the Saint was sufficient to fill the most unimaginative malefactor with uneasy fears, when a man returning home late one night to find the sign of the Saint—a childish sketch of a little man with a straight-line body and limbs, and an absurd halo over his round blank head—chalked upon his door, would be sent instinctively spinning round—with his back to the nearest wall and his hand flying to his hip pocket, and an icy tingle of dread prickling up his spine; but at the date of the Ganning episode the Saint had only just commenced operations, and his name had not yet come to be surrounded with the aura of almost supernatural infallibility which it was to earn for itself later. ....
I think I'll read a bit more.

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