We're sorry. Functionality for this page is not supported in Internet Explorer 8 or older. Please upgrade the latest version of Internet Explorer, Chrome, or FireFox.
Lavender's blue, dilly, dilly!
When I am king, dilly, dilly!
Thou shalt be queen.
This is one of the later entries in a set of at least six stand-alone novels (see also THE MAGIC BOOKS omnibus) with young, troubled protagonists who stumble across magical ways into other times or other worlds that give them a new perspective on their problems in the present.
Holly Wade, with her younger siblings Crock and Judy, has had her world turned upside-down and isn't adjusting well. Their father is missing in action in Vietnam, and to support the family their mother has had to relocate and take a live-in nursing job, leaving her children with her husband's parents. Holly is determined not to like Sussex, Massachusetts, and clashes with her siblings over it since she isn't making things easier for their mother.
Right away, the Wades learn that the old Dimsdale place where the older Wades once lived as caretakers (and caregivers to the old owner) is rumoured to have been cursed by a witch in the Puritan era, and certainly the old owners and the place itself had their troubles; Dimsdale has changed from being a 17th-century showplace with a specially-designed garden to being the local junkyard and facing destruction to make way for redevelopment. (Holly naturally finds the idea of living in a junkyard still another sore point, but the kids' grandparents make a point of salvaging and restoring a lot of antiques that come their way, and maintain the place as best they can.)
The old overgrown maze in what is left of the garden turns out to be a gateway to the past, through which the children meet the 17th century Trulows, the daughters of the garden's original designer, who remained on the estate despite the Dimsdales' desire to take their land. If the cottage and herb garden at the center of the maze is reached one way, the children encounter Tamar, a healer who wants only to live in peace. Approached the wrong way, however, the cottage will hold Hagar, Tamar's younger, ambitious, unethical sister, who immediately finds Holly's hostility to the world around her a useful tool.
(Holly's character is a good piece of writing; she's not a bad kid, but has become prickly and defensive, and it's believable that she could be tempted by Hagar's offer of magic. She's quick to expect hostility from the kids at school, and so hasn't been making friends. She likes bossing her little sister around, so she becomes still more touchy as Judy becomes more decisive and independent.)
The present and the past are interleaved in a way that makes the story worth rereading to make sure you've caught all the details, including the older Wades' memories of the last of the Dimsdale family. In the present, when each kid has to choose a local history research project to prepare for the town's upcoming anniversary, Holly chooses the history of the estate to try to find out what happened to the sisters, which gives the reader more than one perspective on some of the scenes the kids witness in the past, as well as showing the kids that the sisters are in terrible danger and must be warned.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Norton wrote at least six books with titles ending in "Magic" and having very young protagonists; this omnibus edition collects the first three of those six: FUR MAGIC, STEEL MAGIC, and OCTAGON MAGIC. (Those omitted were the later books: DRAGON MAGIC, LAVENDER-GREEN MAGIC, and RED HART MAGIC.) All have some similarities: the kids are in a strange environment (usually a new permanent home), away from familiar older relatives, and have some problem: phobias, grief, homesickness, or feelings of alienation. While exploring, the kids stumble across a magic artifact/gateway that sends them into another world (usually the past, sometimes a parallel world), and experience adventures that help them come to terms with the troubles of their ordinary lives. (In cases where more than one kid is involved, usually they split up early on and have separate adventures.)
That said, while the general structure of each story is somewhat similar, the feel of each story differs according to the personality and problems of the protagonists as well as the details of the various historical/otherworldly scenarios.
FUR MAGIC (1965) Cory Alder has been uprooted to spend at least a summer with his foster uncle in Idaho (his father having shipped out to Vietnam) and is learning that bragging about a Nez Perce foster uncle who raises horses for rodeos is a long way from living up to such a macho standard yourself. He begins developing a fear of large animals, but receives drastic therapy for it after accidentally interfering with a medicine bundle watched over by a traditional-minded elder. To set things right, Cory is sent on a vision quest, and experiences the world 'before it turned over' - living not as a human, but as an animal spirit in the body of a giant beaver, acting as a scout in the midst of a war.
STEEL MAGIC (1967, a.k.a. GRAY MAGIC) The picnic basket and cutlery won by Sara at the Strawberry Festival at first were just a good excuse for her and her brothers to have a picnic while exploring the half-wild estate where they're spending the summer with their uncle. They find more than they bargained for - a gate into Faerie, where a picnic basket packed with ordinary food and steel cutlery is worth far more than any fairy gold. Each sibling must confront his or her fears on a quest to help the people of Avalon retrieve various stolen magical objects: Sara, her fear of insects as she searches for a magic ring in a wood guarded by giant spiders; Greg, his fear of the dark as he seeks to retrieve Excalibur from the Witch of the Mountains; Eric, his fear of water as he searches for an enchanted horn on an island reachable only by sea.
OCTAGON MAGIC (1968) Lorrie Mallard (like the girl in RED HART MAGIC some years later) has had to move to a new home with an unfamiliar aunt due to her grandmother's failing health. Her new environment is strange in almost every way: Maryland rather than Canada; having a working woman, inexperienced with children, as her guardian rather than a stay-at-home grandmother; American public school (including unpleasant boys) rather than a Canadian girls' school; having trouble catching up in class rather than being praised as a good student. She still grieves for her parents, cannot confide in her still-recuperating grandmother even by letter as she must not have any more stress, and has no close ties until by chance she meets the old ladies of Octagon House, who keep to the routines familiar from their youth, including Octagon House's tradition of sheltering refugees from the storms of the outer world. Lorrie experiences some of their stories through an enchanted dollhouse, while in the present day her mentors help her to gain perspective on her new life, and her guardian is drawn into a struggle to preserve Octagon House from destruction to make way for new development. Nice characterization, as Lorrie is generally a good kid but not a plaster saint, while the troublesome people in her life aren't out-and-out villains.
This is the third of the three novels collected in the omnibus THE MAGIC BOOKS (see), one of a set of at least six stand-alone novels with young, troubled protagonists who stumble across magical ways into other times or other worlds that give them a new perspective on their problems in the present.
Lorrie Mallard is homesick and lonely - after her parents died, she lived with her father's mother in Canada, only to lose that home as well now that her grandmother is recovering from a serious operation and can no longer act as her guardian. Everything is strange in Lorrie's new life in Maryland: her advertising copywriter aunt, away all day at her job and unused to children; public school rather than the girls' school she's used to, with American rather than Canadian history and customs, with the accompanying change from being a bright student to falling behind due to her different educational background.
This story has several levels: in the present day, Lorrie rescues a lost kitten from being tormented by some of the boys who have taken to bullying her, to find that the kitten belongs to "the witch's house". Octagon House is the home of two very old ladies, Miss Ashemeade and her companion Hallie, who live in the past in more ways than one, preserving old skills, old beauty, and old stories in a house that has played refuge to many troubled souls in its time. They act as mentors to Lorrie, providing a quiet oasis (and some practical advice about dealing with teasing and bullies). On another level, Octagon House itself is threatened by development plans, and local historical society figures (including Lorrie's aunt) become involved in trying to protect it from demolition. On yet another level, the antique dollhouse set aside in a room of its own in Octagon House acts as a gateway to other times, giving Lorrie the experience of some of Octagon House's other refugees, and giving her still more perspective on her own problems as compared with those of runaway slaves and abused, starving orphans of centuries past.
The total effect works well: present-day Octagon House is a world in itself, with its nineteenth-century decor and emphasis on crafts and skills that while not magical are no longer common. Lorrie herself is not a simple character, nor are those she clashes with simple villains: her aunt mostly hasn't had time to grow into her new role; a neighbour girl with some racial prejudices is able to grow and develop rather than being a total loss; other characters aren't bad people although they grate on the homesick Lorrie. As for the magical elements and past history, as in most Norton stories any happy resolutions to any given situation are not necessarily simple or predictable. Anyone who has read Norton's short story "Through the Needle's Eye" from HIGH SORCERY will see echoes of it in this full-length book, such as Lorrie's relationship with Miss Ashemeade and Hallie, including embroidery lessons and stories of enchanted tapestries, without the characters themselves being simple repetitions of one another.
This is the second of the three novels collected in the omnibus THE MAGIC BOOKS (see), one of a set of at least six stand-alone novels with young, troubled protagonists who stumble across magical ways into other times or other worlds that give them a new perspective on their problems in the here-and-now. In some ways this story is more of a comfort read than the others, as the Lowrys (Greg, Sara, and Eric) have not had their personal world overturned by tragedy; they are just staying with an uncle at his half-wild estate while their parents are in Japan. Their problems have to do with phobias: Greg's fear of the dark, Sara's fear of insects, and Eric's fear of water.
In fact, the story begins on an upbeat note: Sara has just won a prize for the first time, and she and her brothers break in the new picnic basket by exploring the estate with a packed lunch. Having a supply of ordinary food - and stainless-steel cutlery - becomes critical very quickly, as they stumble upon, and through, a gate to another world, where Arthur and Merlin still do battle with the forces of darkness. To find their way back home, the kids need to help the people of Avalon retrieve three stolen magical artifacts, which can only be won back by those who can handle 'cold iron' - and they need to do it before their supply of safe food runs out and they begin forming unbreakable ties to Avalon. They thus divide the food between them, and the three pieces of steel cutlery, and each pursues a separate artifact and faces his or her worst fear. (This gets interesting, especially since Eric is protected by a spoon rather than anything more glamorous.)
Norton has used an Arthurian/semi-Arthurian setting in several other stories, including the full-length novels MERLIN'S MIRROR and HERE ABIDE MONSTERS, but none use the same setting or exactly the same characters. While Huon of the Horn appears in this story, the tone and style make STEEL MAGIC very, very different from Norton's book HUON OF THE HORN; if you enjoy STEEL MAGIC, that's not a reliable indicator as to whether you'll like HUON OF THE HORN.
"'I don't believe Shakespeare told Julia to try fainting,' said Cantrip. 'He's dead.'
'She is referring,' said Selena, 'to his early poem "Venus and Adonis". Julia read it at an impressionable age and has since regarded it as a sort of seduction manual.'
'It is a most indelicate work,' said Ragwort. 'Not at all suitable reading for a young girl.'
'It's hardly Julia's fault,' said Selena. 'They told her at school that Shakespeare was educational.'
'As I recall,' I said, 'the methods employed by the goddess in her pursuit of Adonis, though forceful, achieved only limited success. Doesn't Julia find that discouraging?'"
- the members of the Nursery, discussing with Hilary Tamar Julia's latest letter, herein
There you have a sample of the speech and manner of four of the principal performers of Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar mysteries: honey-tongued Selena, who could get someone out of a deal with the devil on a good day; the incorruptably prudish Ragwort; legal scholar and Oxford don Hilary Tamar; and Cantrip, the token Cambridge graduate among a flock of Oxonians. It always tickles me that while the others dazzle us with floods of sophisticated wit, Cantrip sounds like an escapee from P.G. Wodehouse who might hang out with Bertie Wooster. Cantrip also has the least reputable skills, such as lockpicking, and associates, such as his connections at the newspaper that uses him to check for potentially libelous material before going to press.
As the story opens, the four junior barristers of 62 New Square, unable to take their own holidays thanks to the tyranny of their clerk, are whiling away their days of toil by looking forward to two things: holiday letters from their colleague Julia Larwood, and coffee and gossip sessions with their old mentor Hilary Tamar, at which the letters are shared around. The most they expect are cheerful travelogues of an Art Lovers' Holiday from their hapless friend who hopes for more Love than Art from her holiday, having spent a very stressful few months doing battle with the tax authorities. Her friends, for their part, hope that putting Julia on a packaged tour will compensate for letting their accident-prone friend out without a keeper.
At first, all is pretty much as expected: Julia reports a series of very funny mishaps and minor disasters in her encounters with her fellow Art Lovers, beginning with attracting the pursuit of the Major (old ex-army bore, now selling shady antiques and art objects), failing to attract the lovely Ned (already in a relationship with rising sculptor Kenneth Dunfermline), and accidentally giving the impression of attempting to attract her friendly shopping companion Marylou (whose husband broke a promise not to make it a working vacation, then picked an awkward moment to walk in on them). The last member of the group, wealthy art gallery owner Eleanor Frostfield, far from involving any attraction to/from anyone, distributes insults and starts fights with all the generosity she fails to show financially to her artists - or to fellow travellers who have to pick up the check at a cafe. Her holiday, naturally, is being put down as a business expense.
Speaking of working holidays, several characters turn out to have them. Timothy Shepherd - another member of the Nursery - amid many grumblings from his colleagues is sent to Venice to reason with a client who needs to take steps to avoid paying heavy taxes on an inheritance. Several of the Art Lovers are professionally involved with the Tiverton Collection forming part of the client's estate, though whether as legitimate valuators, potential buyers, or hopeful sneak thieves is an open question.
As Ragwort later remarks, if anyone were to be murdered, it's surprising that nobody murdered Julia. :) Fortunately, Cantrip at his part-time newspaper consulting job intercepts a report that she's a suspect within hours of the murder, he and the rest of Julia's friends need waste no time getting to work on solving the problem.
The story has very polished language, helped along by the fact that it alternates between long chatty letters and conversations among the recipients analyzing them both for clues leading to the actual culprit and for any plausible-sounding line of defence that might hold up in court. I highly recommend listening to the unabridged recording read by Eva Haddon, who handles all the characters superbly, from Julia's perpetual inability to understand what's going on if it doesn't involve the Taxes Acts to Hilary Tamar's discourses on the usefulness of scholarship in identifying and sorting out discrepancies in evidence.
This book is a collection of either 4 or 5 shorter works, depending on how you count; Tolkien himself grouped "On Fairy Stories" and "Leaf by Niggle" together as "Tree and Leaf", but I think of them as being very different.
The 1986 edition in front of me was illustrated by Pauline Baynes. My understanding is that her work with Tolkien on "Farmer Giles of Ham" led him to recommend her to C.S. Lewis; the style of the pictures for that story resembles those she later created for "The Magician's Book" in Lewis' THE VOYAGES OF THE DAWN TREADER.
"The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" is part analysis of an epic poem, and part play based on the poem. I find this hardest to get into of all the pieces in the book.
"On Fairy Stories" A serious essay, starting with prettified Victorian fairy tales and tracing them back to their origins in more serious stories of Faerie and its inhabitants. Personally I would have paired this up with SMITH OF WOOTTON MAJOR rather than "Leaf by Niggle" in terms of subject matter.
"Leaf by Niggle" I acquired the book solely for this story; everything else was icing on the cake. Niggle, although he knows that he will someday have to go on a long journey with no return, finds the idea distasteful and avoids preparing for it; instead, he prefers to spend all the time he can painting, being 'the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees'. But when the time for his journey finds him completely unprepared, it turns out that neither his time working on leaves nor helping his disagreeable neighbour Parish has been wasted.
"Farmer Giles of Ham" is another of Tolkien's 'translations', but along the lines of THE LORD OF THE RINGS - that is, when discussing it he refers to it seriously as a translated history rather than an original story, to the point of identifying his source texts and criticizing some earlier scholar's carelessness about detail. (Tolkien and Lewis indulged in games like this often; see THE LAYS OF BELERIAND for examples of some of their letters analyzing the work of 'translators' on various poems of Tolkien's.) The hero of the story, Giles, starts out as an ordinary farmer who almost accidentally causes a giant to leave his village alone (the giant being hard of hearing, and not caring for what he took to be stinging insects). Unfortunately for Giles, being an official hero isn't always convenient when the professional knights inexplicably can't spare the time to chase *real* monsters, and the giant gave other people quite the wrong impression of his home. I happen to like Tolkien's sense of humor myself, so I enjoy this story, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea. The story's style also reminds me a bit of THE SWORD IN THE STONE, particularly in dealing with professional knights.
"The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book" is a collection of 16 poems; note that only the first two poems feature Bombadil. The preface identifies them as coming from THE RED BOOK (the 'historical' record from which THE LORD OF THE RINGS was 'translated'), and identifies the chararacters who wrote some of them. "The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late" and "The Stone Troll" also appear early in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, but there are more poems along similar lines such as "The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon", "Perry-the-Winkle" (another troll-song), and "Oliphaunt". About a quarter of the poems have a more serious tone.
"Here...we found a frieze, marvellously carved in stone, and some other artwork as well, showing some of the Bullheaded people in the act of bringing light to the poor human people of earth. Most of these in the picture stretched up their carven arms in gratitude. I supposed this must have been carved by the Bullheads themselves."
- Daedalus the inventor, herein
I first read THE WHITE BULL on the strength of an implied comparison on the front cover with PYRAMIDS and AFTER THE FACT (the two books making up Saberhagen's omnibus PILGRIM). Like PYRAMIDS, THE WHITE BULL shows someone from a starfaring civilization operating in a Bronze Age civilization that classifies him as a god.
Pilgrim's goals were self-centered and his means of accomplishing them rather dubious, though he himself often gave the impression of being a charming rogue at worst. The White Bull, on the other hand, is openly working for the betterment of humanity, but is quickly established as having somewhat disturbing means of achieving his goals (with the added benefit to the story of establishing his non-human perspective). Readers can decide for themselves which of Saberhagen's protagonists is the greater threat to those around him.
As Daedalus, the narrator - already a mature man and famed artisan even before encountering this strangest of strangers as a fellow exile at the court of Minos of Crete - says, "[W]henever I see someone approaching to do me a favour - be it man or woman, god or goddess - I generally do myself a favour and flee in the other direction. Through experience I have acquired this habit, and it lies near the root of whatever modest stock of wisdom I possess." As a man who has survived in more than one king's court despite disclaiming any skill at intrigue, Daedalus' distrust of a stranger bearing gifts is well in character.
Saberhagen uses a very free adaptation of various myths - not just the most obvious of those involving Daedalus and Crete, either - as Daedalus recounts his story from memory, long after the fact, allowing for reinterpretation of the myth not only as 'true' history versus what distorted legend (and chroniclers mindful of pleasing royal patrons) later came to say, but a personal perspective from someone more technically minded than most people of his day even before the Bull's teachings came into his life. Saberhagen is quite artful in presenting enough of the White Bull's background and aims to make him somewhat comprehensible while still leaving him both alien and mysterious, and in telling a complete story while making clear that still more stories could be told to illuminate the setting.
Daedalus' narrative slips occasionally into somewhat more scientific jargon than even his esoteric experience and education can justify. The presentation of Cretan culture and that of the surrounding nations isn't as well handled as Renault's THE KING MUST DIE, but on the other hand this is secret history, involving alien contact that has since been buried under millenia of myth and legend.
Worth reading, though it may not wear well for re-reading.
"[Aunt Mary] had a complex about men...The Wicked Uncle really was an uncommonly bad lot. He used to go off and run riot, and then come back, take anything she'd got, and go off again."
"There's a Married Woman's Property Act. Why did she let him?"
"Well, she told me about that when she was quite ill. I think she was a bit wandery and didn't quite know what she was saying, but she meant it all right. She said, 'Don't ever get married, Dorinda. It's just giving a man the power to wring your heart.' And another time...she said in a dreadfully bitter voice, 'He had what they call charm. And he'd take anyone's last drop of blood and their last penny and laugh.'"
- Dorinda Brown to her cousin Justin Leigh, when asked whether her aunt ever told her how to handle proposals
WICKED UNCLE, while it turns upon the gentleman in question, has a somewhat misleading title - his niece Dorinda hasn't seen him since she was a little girl, and while he indirectly affected her a great deal through the aunt who brought her up, the uncle/niece relationship has little to do directly with her life - except that she knows him by sight and by his original name, which (in his current career as a blackmailer) strikes him as a minor inconvenience. Dorinda hasn't even suffered visible emotional damage; in fact, her most memorable characteristic is her unusually cheerful disposition and good temper.
After introducing us to Dorinda, who has just landed a job as a rich woman's "secretary" - really more a companion to Linnet Oakley, a fluttery type who's too "fragile" to do any work - and establishing that Dorinda and her sophisticated cousin Justin have the makings of a romance between them, the book moves on to introduce the Wicked Uncle himself: Gregory Porlock, formerly Glen Porteous, a society blackmailer busily arranging a country house party made up of a new crop of victims. Among them is Dorinda's new employer, and in a rather clumsy bit of plotting, Porlock first goes out of his way to arrange for Dorinda to be added to the house party, while amusing himself by arranging for her to be framed for shoplifting (thus ensuring that she won't actually be able to attend the gathering). Enter Miss Silver as deus ex machina, as she witnesses the botched frame-up and intervenes on Dorinda's behalf (and lays a little groundwork for Dorinda to think of calling her in later, when a murder investigation develops).
Apart from that incident, the first half of the book mainly consists of Porlock's arrangements for his guest list - a series of telephone conversations and occasional face-to-face meetings that introduce the suspects-to-be to the reader along with the material for blackmail. Each is an interesting little story in itself, from Moira Lane - a society beauty who likes living high without anything to live on, and a sometime flame of Justin's - to a professional entertainer guilty of treason during WWII, not long over at the beginning of the story.
Unsurprisingly, by the end of the first evening's party games, Porlock lies dead with a knife in his back - the luminous paint used during one of the games having marked him out nicely in the dark for the murderer (and supplying the book's alternate title, SPOTLIGHT).
While I enjoy the book for the sake of some of the individual characters' stories, I have to say that it strikes me as flawed. The long series of blackmail approaches at the beginning of the book eliminate most of the need for an inquiry for both readers and the investigators in the story, thanks to an eavesdropping member of Porlock's household. None of the romantic leads is ever considered as a suspect, even though at least one has a substantial motive that merited investigation. Taken together with the fact that the first victim (the Wicked Uncle himself, obviously) is completely unsympathetic, readers aren't especially desperate to see the killer brought to justice. Most but not all of the individual blackmail scandals are resolved, one way or another, but we aren't made to care enough about most of the victims to have a stake in seeing them all sorted out except for curiosity's sake.
The stories in this collection date from 1934 and 1935. They function as mysteries as well as suspense stories, although that's not Charteris' strong point. Charteris tends to rely on flash and dazzle to distract the reader from figuring out "who done it"; the short story form doesn't give him much room to develop many supporting characters as possible suspects while still allowing him to build a proper Saintly adventure. They're good stories, I hasten to add, just stronger as adventures than as mysteries.
Patricia Holm has a strong supporting role in the first story as the Saint's intelligent backup. Regrettably (from my point of view, anyway) two of the stories in this collection also include Hoppy Uniatz, who as a Saintly sidekick is a sad come-down from the earlier days of Norman Kent and Roger Conway, as he supplies loyalty, nerves, and brawn without much horse sense (though granted, he shows to much better advantage than usual in "The Case of the Frightened Innkeeper", the final story in this collection).
"The High Fence" is a bit unusual in my experience in that we enter the story from Inspector Teal's end of things before the Saint makes his entrance. The High Fence himself is an as-yet-unidentified fence who earned his nickname - and can pick and choose what stolen goods he'll buy - through the simple trick of paying twice as much as any other fence for them, "contenting himself with 100% profit instead of 300%". Teal ended up with the case because a jewel thief was murdered in police custody to keep him from talking - with the unfortunate side effect of landing Teal with the Police College graduate Junior Inspector who *had* handled the jewel thief up to that point. Teal, tired of having his perpetual battles with the Saint raked up whenever he gives the younger generation a lecture, wishes that they had as much to cope with as *he* has had in his time, only to have his wish granted very dramatically indeed.
In "The Elusive Ellshaw", on the other hand, the Saint cooperates with Teal freely and with a minimum of Tealbaiting on one side and bad feeling on the other, despite the fact that "The High Fence" happened not too long before. I enjoy seeing them work together for a change, and they need each other's information in this case, but it's not clear why the Saint came to Teal in the first place; one of the early scenes in the story opens in mid-conversation in Teal's office, without explaining why the Saint decided to share his information. (Incidentally, Patricia effectively isn't in this story, though we're not told why, and Hoppy is never mentioned.)
As for the adventure itself, "The Elusive Ellshaw" is the strongest mystery of the stories in this book. It has an unpromising beginning, as Mrs. Ellshaw not only approaches the Saint with an apparently mundane problem but is long-winded and querulous to boot. Ellshaw himself - a small-time conman who couldn't even support his family - left her without a word a year ago. The problem isn't to find him, though; she spotted him in a neighbourhood where she works as a cleaning lady, and has already confronted him. Her problem for the Saint is to find out what Ellshaw is up to - why he won't be seen talking to her, and how he suddenly got the cash he gave her when she caught up with him.
The Saint's problem, on the other hand, soon turns deadly; not only is Mrs. Ellshaw murdered shortly after speaking to him, but somebody booby-traps the Saint's own flat. Why is somebody - somebody with more resources than Ellshaw himself has ever had - willing to kill people over Ellshaw?
"The Case of the Frightened Innkeeper" is yet another of the adventures brought to the Saint's attention by someone writing to him for help and advice, though via the title character's live-in niece. She's been hearing mysterious late-night noises and sees that her uncle has some suspicious associates, but he won't tell her what's going on. The sixteenth century inn is located near both a harbour and near Larkstone Prison, allowing for possibilities ranging from secret passages, smuggling, and prison breaks.
The Saint for once shows a few human weaknesses by not only making several errors in judgement but having his opponents exploit them. He even has the novel experience of appreciating some of what he's put Teal through over the years, though neither Teal nor Patricia Holm appear.
If you have THE BRIGHTER BUCCANEER (1933), THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN (1939), and THE SAINT ON THE SPANISH MAIN (1955), then you already have all five of the stories in this book. Each story features the Saint outwitting a con artist (sometimes a socially acceptable phony); in the first four stories, the duel of wits involved is the main story.
"The Green Goods Man" (written for _Empire News_, 1932) is the only story in this collection featuring either Patricia Holm or Inspector Teal. Patricia only serves as someone to be impressed by Templar's acting ability; Teal appears only in passing. As the story opens, Templar himself remarks that this is just a bread-and-butter adventure rather than anything spectacular; he's just passing himself off as a mark in order to turn the tables on a con man he located through a newspaper advertisement. The con artist is the first of three insincere philanthropists in this book who makes money off his supposed acts of charity.
"The Charitable Countess" (from THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN), the second insincere philanthropist herein, is approached in an entirely different way. A former showgirl who married an elderly nobleman only to learn upon his death that she had a social position without any cash to back it up, she turned her position into her stock in trade and makes 25% off each charity benefit she organizes. Since she knows Templar by sight, their confrontation is open, to the point of his announcing in the papers that they've made a wager that he can rob her of some of her jewelry. Don't be fooled, though; this isn't a simple jewel robbery.
"The Mugs Game" (from THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN) is a con centering around a crooked poker game involving marked cards. Most of the story details the events of the game, so if you're not a player the story may be a bit slow for you.
The identity of "The Unkind Philanthropist" (from THE SAINT ON THE SPANISH MAIN, set in Puerto Rico) is left pleasantly ambiguous early on in the story, as the Saint first makes the acquaintance of Tristan Brown, a woman claiming to be the representative of a large foundation, then meets a well-off retiree who likes to patronize (in several senses) local people in need of help.
"The Arrow of God" (from THE SAINT ON THE SPANISH MAIN, set in Nassau) is more a murder mystery than Saint-versus-con artist, and opens with a bit of exposition about the ideal construction of such a plot. The author puts his money where his mouth is, as the character of the victim - a gadfly reporter whose constant jibes sting all the more for the element of truth in them - is indeed the key to his death.