I feel this rating requires some explanation -- but though I'm capable of charting a full analysis of my opinion swings while reading this book, I'll...moreI feel this rating requires some explanation -- but though I'm capable of charting a full analysis of my opinion swings while reading this book, I'll try to keep it brief.
First of all, I'll freely admit that I've never enjoyed the post-1964 Saint books -- the ones Leslie Charteris edited, but did not write -- as much as the ones written by Charteris himself. There is a certain cleverness in Charteris' own writing that is lacking in most imitators' works, and while some of the ghostwriters still produced decent stories, I always missed the electricity and wit of authentic Charteris. This could be interpreted as an unfair bias against more recent publications; and that may well be the case.
However, that said, I started Capture the Saint with an open mind. Sure, Charteris himself had not been involved, but the book was authorized by his estate and had been penned by an established writer and avowed Saint expert. Quite frankly, had I not been optimistic, I would never have paid money for the book in the first place. (I'm purist enough to admit that.)
I won't try to summarize here (I have enough else to say!), but to give you an idea of tone, the book is chock full of references and throwbacks to the original Saint stories. In some cases, these work -- an early remark about The Falcon had me laughing out loud -- but more often they fall flat, or are so forced that they detract from the story, such as when the author shoehorns countless publication titles into the text, or when Simon randomly quotes a bit of dialogue from a previous book with no particular reason to. Far from seeming clever or natural, these insertions felt more like the book trying to justify its association with an established franchise. (Plus, I ultimately found the verbal acrobatics irritating. Did we really need to find a way to force "The Saint Bids Diamonds" or any other title into a spoken sentence?)
The story itself is not badly conceived, though the Saint seemed a little out of place in it -- but if I expound on that topic, I'll run out of space in my review pretty quickly. Suffice it to say that I found the plot a trifle overcomplicated (minor spoiler: We could have done without the entire Buzzy subplot at the end, which was both predictable and anticlimactic; and Diamond Tremayne was completely gratuitous). It also felt overpopulated, with heavy-handed characters whose names often bore a similarity to actors or characters involved with previous Saint incarnations. (Certainly, Charteris himself was often guilty of stooping to stereotypes and pulp cliches, but he seemed to do it with more finesse. Or perhaps he just wasn't writing with the tropes of the late '80s/early '90s.)
Even so, these failings only reduce the work to the level of fairly decent fanfiction -- which, after all, is what happens when the author of a beloved character dies and a new writer must pick up the thread of the story. It's been done with everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Ford Prefect to The Avengers, and Simon Templar is no exception to this process. It may be a step down from pure original Charteris, but that in itself is not bad -- at least, not demoting enough to merit a two-star rating.
No -- in this case, the absolute biggest problem I have with this book is the unforgivable number of grammar and spelling errors throughout! I am convinced that this manuscript never crossed the sightline of an editor, or even a competent English teacher, before publication. Simple errors like misplaced punctuation and misused homophones abound. Elementary English mistakes involving your/you're and their/there are the norm, and I swear to you the word "whose" only appears in the text four times (believe me; I searched the Kindle edition). Every other instance when that word should appear is a misuse of "who's." (These mistakes are perplexing, as all the promotional material credits Burl Barer as an award-winning author of many books. Surely, if he's written that many things, he knows how to use an apostrophe? Or at least has an editor who does? I really don't know what happened here.)
These errors give the book a slapdash, unprofessional aspect that only reinforces the idea that it's fanfiction instead of a clean, finished work. The distracting typos, compounding the middling plot and thick-ladled references, made reading the book an unexciting task that I embarked on largely to justify the fact that I'd spent money on it.
In the end, it was just... there. Not terrible, but disappointing, in a way. I couldn't help feeling that something with The Saint's name on it should have been better.(less)
As Gothic novels go, this one falls into the tinsel category: shiny, completely predictable and not terribly taxing to the brain. Still, it's both pre...moreAs Gothic novels go, this one falls into the tinsel category: shiny, completely predictable and not terribly taxing to the brain. Still, it's both pretty and entertaining, and Elizabeth Peters' ubiquitous infusion of archaeology and historical events add welcome depth to the backdrop of revolutionary Italy.
As a shameless fan of masked crusaders -- my Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro collections will bear me out in this -- I had hoped for a bit more visible action from the titular Falcon, but the story works even when that character spends most of the book out of view. It's a fast read with a satisfying, albeit predictable, conclusion.(less)
I can't decide if this is utterly brilliant or absolutely abominable, so I've rated it somewhere in the middle -- but depending on the state of your S...moreI can't decide if this is utterly brilliant or absolutely abominable, so I've rated it somewhere in the middle -- but depending on the state of your Speed Racer fandom, your mileage may vary. Summary and review follow.
The premise is similar to what DC did with the Batman franchise a couple decades ago: According to this book, Speed Racer is the latest in a long line of racing champions stretching over the past 25,000 years (yes, that's the number Pops Racer gives. I'm not sure why the Racer family has a scrapbook of family events stretching back 19,000 years before written language began, but they do). All of it dates back to a single Roman charioteer (maybe Pops meant 2,500?) and a powerful magic medallion. Events repeat themselves every generation, with the chosen Racer facing his estranged brother and a mysterious enemy as they battle for possession of this amulet. Meanwhile, in present day, Speed and Racer X team up against that same enemy, who has issued a challenge to Speed.
Looking at the book from a technical standpoint, it's an almost painful mash-up of terrible things: The artwork is inconsistent, mixing beautifully-colored plates with panels of badly-rendered characters, horses with their legs on backwards, and chariots with disappearing tongue and harness. The story itself is preposterous in the extreme, and the period tales are full of historical and geographical head-shakers and cringe-worthy character names (Sparkington and Sheriff Detectingham are the medieval versions of Sparky and Inspector Detector, for example, and Speed's ancestors bear monikers like Swiftus Romulus and Sprint Rackham). The writing is full of pop-culture references and out-of-place movie quotes, including dialogue lifted verbatim from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
On the other hand, all of the above is so COMPLETELY in the vein of the low-budget dub and bizarre scenarios of the original Speed Racer cartoon that, even when it makes me groan out loud, it's hard to discount the book on grounds of improbability or inaccuracy. It doesn't pretend, or even aspire to, sophistication; it captures instead the spirit of bad animation and slapdash dub scripts. In a way, it's so ridiculous that it's endearing -- and by the same token, there's a sort of perverted creativity in the way the artists render Speed and Racer X's familiar racing colors in increasingly ludicrous "historical" designs and up the ante on the challenges they face.
This comic lacks the heart and artistry of the Tommy Yune/Wildstorm miniseries, but in its extreme silliness, it packs far more punch than the NOW comics series from the 1980s. It updates (and perhaps back-dates?) the franchise while maintaining the tone of the original series, and for that I give it credit in spite of its many shortcomings.
In summary, perhaps the simplest and most honest review would be simply to write that the book made me laugh out loud, and I certainly got my money's worth out of it.(less)
Leslie Charteris' second novel describes yet another nefarious plot that threatens the safety of England's citizens. This time it's a mysterious crimi...moreLeslie Charteris' second novel describes yet another nefarious plot that threatens the safety of England's citizens. This time it's a mysterious criminal organization that is assassinating public figures, setting explosions, and demanding a ransom of fifteen million pounds to spare London from disaster. It's not a spoiler to reveal that there's more than greed behind the threats, and our intrepid protagonists must sort through a Gordian tangle of career criminals and personal secrets to uncover the truth.
Daredevil is an indirect sequel to X Esquire, though it's not strictly necessary to read them in order. Even though the events of the previous book are referenced once or twice, the author wisely avoids giving away too much or spoiling the ending of that story. I've seen Daredevil called a "follow-up" work, which is probably a more accurate description.
A few characters from X Esquire are present in minor roles, but Charteris introduces two new leads for this adventure: Christopher (Kit) "Storm" Arden, a likable hero who, had the author continued writing about him, might have been developed into as fully a charismatic personality as his more famous literary brother, Simon Templar; and a certain police inspector named Claud Eustace Teal, who spends a delightful amount of time in the limelight compared to most of his later appearances as the Saint's foil and frequent joke-butt. For those versed in Saint lore, it may be strange to see Teal in a supporting role as Storm's lower-ranking sidekick, but he and his ubiquitous chewing gum are given plenty of establishing characterization here. Also present is a refreshingly on-screen female, Susan Hawthorne, who -- in contrast to her predecessors in X Esquire -- actually thinks, speaks and takes action to defend herself when she is in danger. She's still not winning any women's-lib medals, but at least she has a narrative point-of-view and shows enough initiative to become irritated at Storm occasionally, which makes her a hundred times more interesting than any of the gals in X Esquire. (For Saint fans: She's roughly on par with Patricia Holm in usefulness.)
Plot-wise, the book is very typical of most other early Charteris novels I've read: A string of mysterious crimes reveals a massive plot that threatens to destroy England; the enemy may be using some secret pseudo-scientific device; our dashing young hero must operate outside the law to bring the guilty parties to justice, as well as rescue the pretty girl who is guaranteed to be put in danger at some point. By law of averages, there's also likely to be a subplot of revenge and/or blackmail. The recipe is not a bad one -- Charteris built quite a career on such formulae -- and, as a bonus, Daredevil mixes in a couple of elements that aren't present in any of the Saint stories that I have read. Without spoiling the reveal, the threads knotting Kit Arden into events actually surprised me. Although the angle has been worked into so many other stories that it's practically a trope, it was not at all what I expected from Charteris, which made it seem interesting instead of cliche. The plot is still not as refined as the author's later work -- this was, after all, only his second published novel -- but it's a clear step up from X Esquire, and for me it was a refreshing break in form from the entertaining-yet-predictable conflicts of most of the Saint stories.
The tone of writing is also a shade different from Charteris' other works. The dialogue is still fast and snappy, but it matches neither the easy vitriol of the Saint, nor the drawling Wodehouse-like banter of Terry Mannering. Things move fast, in colloquial speech, with so much period detective and criminal jargon that at one point I actually had to look up a word in a slang dictionary to follow the scene. (It was humbling. Reading period fiction has the effect of making me feel simultaneously very smart and very dense.) The tone fits the characters well, but I often had to reread a line or two to decode the thick accents of some of the criminal element.
Short version: Like the previous book, this is not the best novel Charteris ever wrote; but it's entertaining enough to be worth a read, and Saint fans won't want to miss Teal's early days.(less)
X Esquire was Charteris' first published novel -- and it shows, though the book is still worth reading for several reasons.
This is not one of the auth...moreX Esquire was Charteris' first published novel -- and it shows, though the book is still worth reading for several reasons.
This is not one of the author's stronger plots; in fact, it's a bit confusing in places, and required some page-flipping to previous incidents to keep track of what was going on. However, the book gets by on the strength of snappy dialogue and brilliant wordplay -- Charteris' trademark -- that make it fun enough to read that the story's weaknesses don't matter that much.
As in some of the early Saint books, the plot of X Esquire contains one fantastic element that borders almost on science-fiction; but these devices are never so removed from reality that they break the story. I had only one major complaint, which was that the female characters in X Esquire are little more than cardboard cutouts. They're scarcely visible; they rarely speak, and when they do it's only to reinforce something previously stated by a male character. (By the end, I was longing for a stronger Charteris femme like Patricia Holm or Susan Hawthorne to at least make a snappy comment, if not be actually useful.)
This title is also notable for a couple of central characters that Charteris fans should take note of: Terry Mannering, black-haired, blue-eyed and adventure-seeking, might easily be a first draft of Simon Templar. (It's revealed in later books that Templar and Mannering are friends; Simon mentions him a couple of times, and at one point Pat goes to stay with the Mannering family.) Police detective Bill Kennedy reappears in Charteris' next novel, Daredevil, as a coworker of one Inspector Teal -- who would, of course, go on to become Simon Templar's opposite number throughout much of the Saint series.
In short, established Charteris fans should give this book a read. Those interested in picking up a Charteris book for the first time should probably start with one of his later Saint novels, and then come back and read this later.(less)
I found this while on vacation, which was perfect timing, as it's perfect brain-candy. I had a delightful time losing myself in the vintage pulp, and...moreI found this while on vacation, which was perfect timing, as it's perfect brain-candy. I had a delightful time losing myself in the vintage pulp, and especially the period ads and sidebars, which are faithfully reproduced (and are, in many cases, more entertaining than the actual story).
The Phantom character himself suffers from many of the same perfect-superhuman-hero failings as his early-20th-century pulp fellows -- he's a genius millionaire who speaks six languages, invents his own electronic gizmos, maintains several failsafe hideouts, knows several types of hand-fighting, cannot be seriously injured by anything, and is always at least two steps ahead of the bad guys -- but let's be honest: You don't read this sort of story looking for realism or deep, reflective character development. It's the literary equivalent of that summer action movie full of explosions and cookie-cutter characters. You don't learn anything meaningful from it, but it's a fun ride while it lasts.(less)
I was hopeful when I started this novel, as it is set in the days just before the French Revolution, which is a period I love to read about. But this...moreI was hopeful when I started this novel, as it is set in the days just before the French Revolution, which is a period I love to read about. But this is not one of Holt's better offerings -- in fact, the only reason I bothered to finish reading it was because I had taken the book on vacation with me, and had few other reading options available at the time.
I spent most of the book being irritated by the characters (I dearly wanted the principal love interest to be trampled by a herd of pigs, as he is one of the creepiest jerks ever to romance a Gothic heroine). I guessed the "surprise" plot twist halfway through the book, and was disappointed that I turned out to be correct. The ending was trite and seemed forced, and there was never any real suspense about how things would turn out.
Holt has written a number of clever, suspenseful and entertaining books; this just isn't one of them.(less)
Because it had gotten good reviews, I struggled through the first third or so of this book. Eventually I decided that since I had no interest in or at...moreBecause it had gotten good reviews, I struggled through the first third or so of this book. Eventually I decided that since I had no interest in or attachment to any of the characters -- and in fact wouldn't really care if they all got flattened by an 18-wheeler -- it wasn't worth putting any more time into.
The writing itself isn't bad, though it's hyper-descriptive and not my usual style. There is a mystery to be solved, and the premise might work if the story were populated by different personalities. But the lack of redeeming qualities in any of the characters just killed any interest I might have had in the rest of the book.(less)