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Sunday 22 August 2021

‘The Pearls of Peace' from 'Señor Saint’ by Leslie Charteris

First published in 1958 by The Crime Club in the US, and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK in 1959.
Now available in Paperback, Audio and Kindle.

The stories in Señor Saint are set in Mexico. In The Revolution Racket the Saint outwits a pair of criminals that attempt to use his fame as the Saint to pin the blame for their crime onto him. In The Golden Frog he outwits a far less vicious pair of criminals who think he is a rich and gullible mark for their elaborate con; (you'd think any criminal with a sense of self-preservation would have heard of the Saint's alias, Sebastian Tombs, by this stage in his career.) In The Romantic Matron he prevents a young widow, who is searching for romance and adventure, from being exploited by a ruthless and dangerous man.

In The Pearls of Peace Charteris describes a small town called La Paz, which in Mexican means Peace, situated in Baja California (Lower California.) It is at the end of a peninsula that is attached to California, but by an over-sight was excluded from the United States. 'Thus like an almost amputated limb, Baja California hangs in the edge of the Pacific, bound to Mexico by nationality, to California by what terrestrial ligaments it has, nourished by neither and an anomaly to both.'

In La Paz the Saint encounters two very different women. Although he had never before met Jocelyn Ormond, at first he thinks that he has, until he realises she is a type: she is the girl in a certain type of pulp fiction. 'The girl that the grotesque private eye with the unpaid rent and the bottle of cheap whisky in his desk drawer is always running into, who throws her thighs and her breasts at him and responds like hot jelly to his simian virility.' Jocelyn Ormond had 'all the standard equipment – the auburn hair, the bedroom eyes, the fabulous mammary glands, the clothes that clung suggestively to her figure, the husky voice, the full moist lips...' However the Saint had not yet made a move because 'he couldn't somehow make himself feel like the type of cut-rate Casanova who should have been cast opposite her.'

Jocelyn Ormond has come to La Paz to seek out her ex-husband, Ned Yarn, in answer to an appeal he sent her for help. This is not because of any gentle emotion towards him but because she thinks he may have discovered a treasure in pearls.

Jocelyn persuades the Saint to make contact with her ex-husband for her, by following Ned Yarn's instructions and going to a back-street bistro and asking for a woman called Consuelo.

'The Saint turned.

He turned slowly, because the quality of the voice had jolted him momentarily off balance... It was the loveliest speaking voice he had ever heard. It had the pure tones of 'cellos and crystal bells in it, and yet it held a true warmth and a caress and a passion that made the untrammelled sexiness of Jocelyn Ormond's voice sound like a crude rasp.'

However, when the Saint turns to look at her, he is in for a bitter disappointment. 'She could have been under thirty, but she was aged in the cruel way that women of her racial mixture, in that climate, will age....'Her figure might once have been enticingly ripe, but now it was overblown and mushy. Her black hair was lank and greasy, her nose broad and flat, her painted mouth coarse and thick...'

The ear proves truer than the eye and it is Consuelo, plain and pock-marked though she is, that is the heroine of this story and the woman that wins the Saint's admiration and respect; while Jocelyn Ormond is revealed in all the ugliness of her vanity, selfishness and spiteful common mind. When the Saint meets Ned Yarn, in a hovel in one of the back streets of La Paz, he soon hears the true story of why Yarn had not returned to his wife and makes a truly Saint-like decision to help them. And, on the last page, when Jocelyn Ormond boasts of the string of pearls in her jewellery box that 'were good enough for Catherine the Great', the reader can anticipate with delight the delicious twist of fortune that the Saint is about to put into action.

The Pearls of Peace is a perfectly told story of deep contrasts: the opulent Jocelyn Ormond in her gilded hotel, who makes herself and her surroundings tawdry by her spite and gold-digging; and Consuelo, with her golden voice and ugly appearance, making a home out of a hovel for the man she loves. And throughout it all, Simon Templar carrying forward his own vision of Justice and ensuring it prevails.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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