Tuesday, June 20, 2017
MEET THE TIGER by Leslie Charteris
Y'see, it's the book that introduces Simon Templar, aka "The Saint," his Cockney servant Orace, and Templar's girlfriend Patricia Holm. And yet in later years Charteris would all but disown Meet the Tiger, feeling there was too much wrong with it, and excluded it from the official chronology of the Saint...and yet later acknowledging that it was a seminal work for him.
It's the late 1920s. Templar and Orace show up in the Devon town of Baycombe. Templar is 27, a seasoned adventurer who's been around the world and is independently wealthy. (If I recall correctly, later in the series it's revealed that he fought in WWI. But more about that as the series unfolds.) He knows that somewhere in the town is a dastardly criminal, The Tiger, who's hiding out there after an enormously profitable bank heist in the US, and has laundered the money in South Africa and is bringing it up here.
The problem is...he's never met The Tiger, and while dodging attempts on his life, he has to figure out who it is, as well as locate the loot. Templar meets Patricia, who is living there with her aunt, and falls in love with her fierce spirit. I loved this little quote from her: "I know it isn't going to be a picnic - but I'm sorry if you think I'm a girl that's only fit for picnics. I've always fancied myself as the heroine of a hell-for-leather adventure, and this is probably the only chance I shall ever have. And I'm jolly well going to see it through!" Stern stuff, she. In fact, I like how Charteris treats her. Of course, she's motivated by a love for Templar, but also very by a love of excitement and adventure. And at one point where she believes Templar to be dead, she and Orace take a deep breath and continue the operation themselves, with her ruthlessly going after the villains. She's a badass.
The villains are treated interestingly as well. The identity of The Tiger is kept secret until the very end, although a few times you learn that such-and-such a character definitely ISN'T The Tiger. Charteris avoids some of the ethnic bigotry of the day; none of the henchmen (whom he calls the Tiger Cubs) are caricatures, and one being a Boer is noted only in passing. But the Cubs obviously have minds of their own, and they're not just puppets of The Tiger.
It's a fun book, if with some flaws. Sometimes the style is a little clunky, there's a couple of very unlikely coincidences and things being just a little too convenient, and a plot point involving an impersonation that seems very unlikely. But at the same time, it's made clear that Templar and Patricia have sex in the novel (nothing explicit, but it's obvious), which is perhaps a bit eyebrow-raising, as the square-jawed British heroes of the day were generally very prudish. (More on the Saint and Patricia's relationship later....)
The bad part of this is that the book is hard to get hold of. Charteris' "official" Saint canon was recently made available again as ebooks, but Meet the Tiger was left out. You have to count on finding an old copy somewhere....mine is a 1952 Avon paperback. Worth hunting down a copy, especially for some good old-fashioned hell-for-leather adventure, which I think we need more of.