Thursday, June 7, 2018
FFB: The Saint / The Million Pound Day by Leslie Charteris
Last week, I bought a $1.49 Kindle copy of The Saint versus Scotland Yard, a 1932 book containing three Saint novellas – The Inland Review, The Million Pound Day, and The Melancholy Journey of Mr. Teal – and read the middle story first.
In it, Simon Templar, driving back to London at night, stops to help a dazed, exhausted and beaten man running from a pursuing thug. The thug is part of a gang planning to pass a million pounds worth of illegal Italian currency. The man Templar helps is an Italian official in England to stop the gang. The Saint hides the man in a safe place and takes up the cause.
None of this will spoil the mystery of the story because there is not much of a mystery in The Million Pound Day. The novella is an adventure yarn with the Saint hunting down the leader of the gang while dodging the police. The cops are always eager to slap the cuffs on Simon Templar because the Saint frequently breaks the law, but usually to help others.
The dashing, erudite Templar goes head to head with the gang’s leader, matching wits and showing just how unflappable he can be in the face of danger. At one point, a gun at his back, he causally composes a little ditty about the situation just to annoy the bad guys and amuse himself.
But, occasionally, the Saint can be an obnoxious jerk, as when he eludes Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard with a rapid fire stream of pure BS. In that instance, he was assisted by his girlfriend, Patricia Holm.
Templar and Holm live together in the Saint’s London townhouse, an interesting plot element considering the era.
The Million Pound Day is a fast, easy read, written in a breezy, lighthearted style, although Charteris’ unusual word choices sent me to the dictionary a few times, looking up words like “spondulix,” an archaic term for money. The language, especially Templar’s clever dialogue add to the fun of this Saint story.
The one sour note was the racist descriptions of one member of the gang. Maybe that was acceptable then, but we know better now. (I hope.)
Leslie Charteris (1907-1993) introduced Simon Templar in his 1928 book Meet the Tiger. He continued writing Saint stories until 1963 when other authors took over the writing under Charteris’ guidance.