By GW Thomas
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 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.
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 gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.