Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Guest Post | The Darker Drink: Pseudonymous Saint

By GW Thomas

The Saint series by Leslie Charteris is known for its highly adventurous flare. In fact, Charteris really created the James Bond film feel. If you read Ian Fleming, you find a Bond who is morose, cold, and rather unappealing. The flamboyant spy with the quips and one-liners is Simon Templar with the more realistic backdrop of Fleming to support it.

One can argue that neither the Saint nor 007 is particularly "realistic." Criminals do not defy the police as Templar does Inspector Veal. Spies do not stand out as playboys and rock stars. If there is anything George Smiley can tell us, it is that these characters are fiction's equivalent of comic book heroes. Which is alright. They serve a different purpose than John le Carre's cold, depressing truth. They make us laugh and dream of fast cars and faster women. They embody the fourteen-year-old's zest for life and all its possibilities.

It shouldn't be a big stretch for a superman of Simon Templar's stripe to have adventures that are just a little less believable. Even fantastic. Which he did do on a number of occasions. These stories were collected in The Fantastic Saint (1982), edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Charles G Waugh. The book includes "The Newdick Helicopter," "The Gold Standard," "The Man Who Loved Ants," "The Questing Tycoon," "The Darker Drink," and "The Convenient Monster." The book acknowledges that the second Saint novel, The Saint Closes the Case (1930), is similarly fantastic, but too long to include. Among the stories gathered were four tales that actually appeared in SF magazines; three reprinted in Fantasy & Science Fiction. This shouldn't be too surprising since F&SF was created by Francis J McComas and the mystery/SF guru Anthony Boucher. The more surprising one is "The Darker Drink" that was the Saint's only SF pulp appearance in October 1947's Thrilling Wonder Stories.

"The Darker Drink" begins with Simon Templar alone in a cabin, frying trout for his supper. Suddenly a stranger comes to his door - pursued by three men - and begs Simon to help him. To convince the Saint, the man shows him a crystal that contains the image of the most beautiful woman in existence, Dawn. The man, Big Bill Holbrook, claims he is really bank clerk Andrew Faulks, a man dreaming the entire thing from his sleep in Glendale, California.

The Saint thwarts the thugs, meets and kisses the girl, and makes Big Bill jealous, but nothing really makes any sense. The girl can't remember her past. Everybody keeps calling the Saint the same three nicknames, in exactly the same order, until finally the thugs' big boss, the very fat Selden Appopoulis, faces off with Templar. The shootout does not go the way it usually does with the Saint and the Happy Highwayman falls to the floor with a bullet hole in his chest. Except he wakes up and none of it seems to have happened. Simon still has the gem in his pocket, so he can't quite believe it was all a dream. When he gets to Glendale he finds out Andrew Faulks had slipped into a coma, but died at the exact time Templar was shot. Even the gem has disappeared from his pocket. In the end it all really had been a dream of a dying man.

This story offers little we haven't seen before in dream stories. The shock at the end isn't particularly good. What makes this story fun is two other things. One, Charteris keeps you guessing even though you know some explanation will be forthcoming. Secondly, and much more rewarding, is that the author has fun with himself and his formula. All the plot elements are familiar Saint material: the man in need of help, the beautiful girl, the vicious thugs; the shoot out. Without the fantastic element, it could easily pass for one of the duller radio episodes. The author pokes fun at himself when Simon Templar notes to himself that "this sounds like one of those stories that fellow Charteris might write." This will be doubly so when we consider the true authorship of the story. For Charteris didn't write it.

The actual authorship of these "fantastic" Saint stories has been the subject of some educated guessing. It is a well-known fact that Harry Harrison wrote Vendetta For a Saint (1964) and that all the novels after 1963 were not written by Charteris. Most were written by Lee Fleming and revised by Charteris. "The King of the Beggars" (1948) was written by Henry Kuttner from an old radio script. So who wrote "The Darker Drink?"

At first, some thought it was Harrison or Theodore Sturgeon, but this was not the case. The best guess these days is that is was Astounding Science Fiction alumnus Cleve Cartmill. Cartmill is best remembered as the author of "Deadline," a tale about nuclear weapons before the devices were common knowledge. The story drew a visit from the FBI that had Cartmill and editor John W Campbell in the hot seat until they could prove that they had been writing about nuclear technology in science fiction for years. And that if they suddenly stopped, the Nazis might get suspicious. Cartmill is also suspected as the author of the story in which the Saint meets the Loch Ness Monster: "The Convenient Monster."

"The Darker Drink" never received a television rendering, so we can't look at how Roger Moore might have played out this weird scenario. The closest we can get is "The Convenient Monster" (the only story from The Fantastic Saint to be televised) that appeared on November 4, 1966. In this color episode, the monster is never shown; only implied. If "The Darker Drink" had been produced, it would have been easy enough to recreate, since no monsters or special effects were needed. The confusing atmosphere might have been intriguing in a good director's hand, but I don't think the producers would have contemplated a scene in which Simon Templar is shot dead (even in a dream). The TV Saint always wins. This story was perhaps the closest he ever came to failing that motto.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

1 comment:

Ian Dickerson said...

It's Inspector Teal, not Inspector Veal.

You might want to note, rather than implying sole-authorship of the post-1963 books, that they were not ghosted efforts but collaborations -- as Charteris himself admitted in numerous forwards to those books. Vendetta was not solely written by Harrison - if you look at the manuscript you can see Charteris made several changes to it before publication. Or to put it another way, he would never let anything go out under his name that he wasn't happy with. And he was a tough bugger to please.

'The Convenient Monster' is not the only story from The Fantastic Saint to be televised: 'The Gold Standard' was the inspiration for 'The Abductors', 'The Newdick Helicopter' for 'The Checkered Flag' abd 'The Questing Tycoon' for 'Sibao',


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