Sunday, July 26, 2009

Señor Saint, by Leslie Charteris

This isn’t the book cover I had planned to feature today. I was going to focus on something darker, more suggestive of danger, something crisp with fright. But because the weather has been so incredibly beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest for the last couple of weeks, I was moved instead to look for something more tropical in nature.

Señor Saint is a collection of four short stories by Leslie Charteris (born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin), the half-Chinese, half-English author who, in 1928, introduced the character of Simon Templar in Meet--The Tiger! Templar, who is also known as The Saint (a cognomen derived from the initials of his name), was a thief, adventurer, amateur sleuth, and “Robin Hood of modern crime.” Charteris wrote and saw published almost three dozen Saint books--novels and short-story collections--and witnessed his protagonist portrayed in both movies and on the radio (with Vincent Price giving his voice to the character for four years, on three networks), before television finally took an interest. In 1962, Roger Moore began starring in The Saint, a British mystery/spy series that made handsome Simon Templar almost as famous on the small screen as James Bond was in movie theaters. That role as Templar is now considered to have been valuable training for Moore’s subsequent portrayal of Agent 007 in seven big-action films.

According to Wikipedia, “Charteris wrote 14 novels between 1928 and 1971 (the last two co-written), 34 novellas, and 95 short stories featuring Simon Templar.” Señor Saint falls approximately in the middle of the author’s production. This collection was first published in hardcover by The Crime Club in 1958; a year later, Hodder and Stoughton finally made it available to UK readers. The book contains four yarns--“The Pearls of Peace,” “The Revolution Racket,” “The Romantic Matron,” and “The Golden Frog”--all of which are set in Latin America (Baja California, Mexico City, Havana, and Panama) and have in one way or another to do with swindles. An online review describes the stories as “typical, charming and amusing little thrillers, if nothing very special.” Nonetheless, all four were eventually adapted as episodes of The Saint. (Synopses of those TV installments, and more, can be found here.) The Saintly Bible, an expansive and authoritative Web site devoted to Charteris and Templar, recalls that the author was on record as saying that “The Pearls of Peace” “was his favorite Saint story.” (Yet, “he chose to include ‘The Arrow of God’ when asked for his ‘best’ work for the 1955 book, My Best Murder Story, edited by David Cooke.”)

The Señor Saint cover featured at the top of this post comes from the 1960 Pocket Books edition. Its artwork suggests leisure, languidness, and lust--all in colors familiar from places where one has to think twice before putting on a jacket to go to work. The illustration is credited to James Hill. A Canadian artist born in 1930, Hill grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, later taught at the Ontario College of Art, and reportedly created covers “for more than 200 paperback novels”; yet he is probably best remembered for artwork he did on assignment for Maclean’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines. Described as “a versatile stylist,” Hill was apparently a two-time recipient of gold medals from the New York Society of Illustrators, and executed a number of noteworthy portraits, including those of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Pope John Paul II. Hill is often described as “the dean of Canadian illustrators.” (Click here to see a selection of his magazine imagery.)

Beyond Señor Saint, Hill’s other book illustrations included the cover for the 1959 Dell paperback edition of Cop Killer (see above), one of 51 novels written by George Bagby (né Aaron Marc Stein) and featuring Inspector Schmidt, the New York City police department’s “sore-footed” chief of homicide.

James Hill is said to have died on February 3, 2004, “at his Toronto studio of heart problems at age 73.” If so, he outlived Leslie Charteris by 11 years.


Scott Parker said...

To date, I haven't read any Saint books. Now that I have the title of the first book, I'll be on the lookout for it. Recently, I was given a box of books on tape. One of which was a collection of Saint radio shows. Think I'll pull'em out and take a listen.

Anonymous said...

I was just sitting thinking about my good friend James Hill,when i found this site and realized wow this is the anniversary of when he left us so as I type this I'm wearing his old tweed hat. I miss u Jimmy. Bernie g.

pecasatwo said...

Jimmy was my mother's cousin. I knew his father but never had the privilege to meet him. Evidently he was quite the raconteur, but there was no doubt to his incredible talent. Some of the faces in his works were actually those of family members. Thank you for your posting - so glad I found it.