I’m thinking a bit about glamorous crooks in the twenties, and Leslie Charteris’s ‘Saint’ has got me wondering. The first Saint book, Meet the Tiger, was published in 1929, and in that Simon Templar is 29. So, presuming the events of the book to have occurred a year or two earlier (and I think that the original magazine publication was in 1928) – so he’s have been old enough to enlist.
Then there are a lot of military connotations around him in that first book – he lives in a pill-box that had been part of coastal defences, and his servant ‘Orace is a wounded ex-sergeant whose military career is frequently mentioned.
Templar remains a mysterious, though, and what he has been doing in the decade since the war is the subject only of dark hints.
Templar clearly has a lot in common with the demobilised thriller heroes of the early twenties, such as Bulldog Drummond (though he carries aspects of their behaviour to even more rididiculous extremes; the facetiousness that Drummond uses as a weapon to annoy Peterson is used by Templar till it annoys everybody). Probably, beginning in the late twenties, he wanted to give his hero some of the connotations of the wartime hero, but did not want to tie him down to dates. Wisely, since he kept on writing the series till the sixties, and a Great War hero would not have been all that convincing as an action man forty years on.
(Though maybe he could have ignored the problem, like Agatha Christie, whose Poirot is a sixty-year-old refugee from war-torn Belgium in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but still has all his little grey cells active half a century later.)
Margery Allingham has the same kind of haziness about the wartime career of Albert Campion.
One lesson that Charteris clearly took from the Bulldog Drummond novels was the inadvisability of letting your hero marry the leading lady at the end of the first book. Poor old Phyllis hangs around the rest of the series getting kidnapped from time to time, but Drummond has nowhere lese to go emotionally. Templar beds Patricia (rather explicitly for a 1929 thriller) at the end of the book, but doesn’t marry her – so is left free for further adventures.