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The Saint Mystery Library

A Paperback Mystery Magazine, August 1959 to March 1960

The Saint Mystery Library, while known to many American collectors, (who generally have at least a couple of the volumes, but have no idea how many were published) is perhaps overlooked, or foreign to most other Saint fans around the world. It is easy to miss these books, as they are generally shelved according to the featured author and not sitting in the Charteris section of your local bookstore. Alternately, if you do happen upon one when browsing through a large pile of paperbacks, you won't miss it. The large Saint logo brazened across the top in large letters is more than enough to catch the eye of the ardent Saint fan.

With the long running success of The Saint Mystery Magazine, Leslie Charteris launched a series of paperback books--published in America with a cover price of 35¢--that consisted of stories that had already been published previously in that magazine. None of the stories were written by Charteris, but were selected by him from the wealth of stories that had been submitted to the Magazine over the years. In 1960, Charteris himself described the whole Library escapade as "a weird operation, actually reprints of magazine reprints thinly disguised as pocket-books for a rather shady newsstand deception, on which nevertheless he has to pay me the same royalty as on the Magazine" [From a letter from Leslie Charteris to Harold Straubing of the New York Herald-Tribune, dated Jan 26, 1960]. While it may have been true in early 1960 that most of the Library consisted of reprints, when the final totals were tallied up it was found that of the 54 stories and novels that were included in The Saint Mystery Library, 16 of them were original, most of which appeared in the later issues. These original stories make a strong argument that the Library was in fact, a paperback version of a mystery magazine, and at the very least, a 14 volume anthology of the best mystery and detective fiction of the day. Leslie Charteris defended this mixture of old and new stories writing that, "our policy in THE SAINT [Mystery Magazine] has changed somewhat, as many of you will have observed, and we are no longer accenting reprints such as these. This is a decision of the Publisher's which I view with mixed feeling: I was rather attached to our composite make-up of some old, some new. Now that the stories in THE SAINT are practically all new, however, we still have this Mystery Library series in which to revive separately some of the best of the old; and you may be surprised at how novel some of it is" [From the introduction to Death Walks in Marble Halls, March 1960]. Echoing the motto of The Saint Mystery Magazine, which was, "some old, some new--the finest in mystery fiction" , Charteris also refers to the brief lapse in that policy which is explained further in a moment.

There is a chain of events, dating back to The Saint's Choice digest-sized paperbacks of 1945 to 1946, when Charteris first started choosing and editing stories for inclusion in some sort of collected anthology. The second link came in 1946 when he became Editor for Suspense magazine, a short-lived periodical that was closely associated with the American radio show of the same name. The Saint Detective Magazine debuted in 1953, with Charteris writing new Saint stories, and keeping a large hand in what was to be included in each issue. And by 1959 Leslie Charteris had come full circle, once again back to choosing and editing mystery stories for paperback collections. The Saint Mystery Library, while a completely new undertaking, surely had its roots dug into Charteris' experiences in the field.

Beginning with the fifth book of the Library, Charteris wrote a short introduction that appeared at the onset of each subsequent book, with the very last being the only one more than a page or two. These briefs usually consisted of a few personal words of wisdom about the authors, or stories, the sole exception being an essay about Trinidad and Calypso singers in The Rum and Coca-Cola Murders.

Each book in the Library carried a serial number between 118 and 131, but were also given volume numbers on the copyright page, ranging from 1 to 14. Prices are generally even among all the titles, with fine copies demanding a high premium. The most collectible title is Let Her Kill Herself (#128) which includes a story by Harlan Ellison, which makes that book about twice as expensive as the others in the series. The Ellison story, Find One Cuckaboo, was an original story, and being the first appearance of said story, is highly collectable. Strangely enough, according to Michael L. Cook, in his book Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines, this same Ellison story was rejected by The Saint Mystery Magazine, yet managed to hang on long enough to be considered for publication after all, albeit in a different forum.

The publication history of The Saint Mystery Library is interesting due to a certain sequence of events. Firstly, in August 1959 The Saint Mystery Magazine was being published by H.L. Herbert of King-Size Publications, Inc., New York . Strangely enough, instead of having King-Size print his new series of books, Charteris went to Great American Publications, Inc., to get the first two volumes of the Saint Mystery Library published. Secondly, two months later, in October 1959, the style and format of The Saint Mystery Magazine changed dramatically, with the a new publisher coming on board: Henry Scharf, of the aforementioned Great American Publications, Inc. The new format was jazzy, with the front covers looking suspiciously like the opening credits from the NBC television show, Peter Gunn--a detective show that debuted in 1959, featuring music by Henry Mancini. This was also the same time that the motto of the magazine was removed, and the bulk of the stories were new and original. Perhaps when Charteris was negotiating with Scharf for the paperback deal, they discussed what might be done to the magazine in order to get sales up. This also seems to have led to the change in publishers, with a new format they hoped would be more exciting and modem.

Lastly, Great American Publications (GAP) continued to print both The Saint Mystery Magazine, and The Saint Mystery Library until August 1960, when both series stopped dead in their tracks. While the library was never continued, the magazine came back to life a full year later, in September 1961, with Leslie Charteris' introduction to telling us what had happened:

"To all the old faithful readers who winced aloud at the atrocities of bad taste that were inflicted on this publication [The Saint Mystery Magazine] last year in a vulgar effort to jazz it up, I would like to say that my anguish was greater than anyone else's, and one of the best days of my life was when I was finally able to get THE SAINT [Mystery Magazine] back again from that management. Nothing like that will happen again, I assure you. As you see, the Magazine is once more exactly the same as it was in the good old days: the same classic style of cover, the same dignity of inside format, the same quality of production."

Obviously, Charteris had fired Great American Publications due to creative differences, having had a change of heart about the modernization of his classic mystery magazine. Unfortunately The Saint Mystery Library was never heard from again, being lost in the shuffle and reorganization that followed as Charteris tried to bring the magazine back from the grave. It was not, however, the last time that Charteris managed to peddle "thinly disguised reprints of magazine reprints" (as he referred to it in the Harold Straubing letter) in some sort of book form. The Saint Magazine Reader, and subsequent British edition called The Saint's Choice, showed up in 1966 and 1967, respectively, showing that Charteris still thought that linking the Saint with other author's stories was a strong selling point.

With all said and done, a complete run of The Saint Mystery Library adds yet another facet to a true fan's collection of the Saint and Leslie Charteris. They make for pretty good reading as well.

Complete Bibliography:

(An asterix denotes first appearance in print)

#118 (1) Stairway to Murder Aug, 1959

Cover artwork by Sussman
Stairway to Murder by Rufus King
The Very Groovy Corpse by Craig Rice
Walk-Up to Fear by Maysie Greig
Bad and Dangerous by Hal Ellson
The Amateur Assassin by Hayden Howard

#119 (2) Witness to Death Aug, 1959

Cover artwork by Sussman
A Package for Mr. Big by Frank Kane
Witness to Death by Wenzell Brown
For the Good of the City by Arthur Somers Roche
City in the Bottle by Hayden Howard
I Want it Foolproof by Richard Deming

#120 (3) Murder Set to Music Sep, 1959

Cover artwork by Sussman
Murder Set to Music by Fredric Brown
Corpse in a Suit of Armor by Poul Anderson
Pill Roller by James E. Gunn
Open All Night by Lawrence G. Blochman
The Eleven Diplomats* by John Jakes

#121 (4) The Frightened Millionaire Sep, 1959

Cover artwork by Ted Coconis
Frightened Millionaire by Craig Rice
City of Brass* by Edward D. Hoch
The Nine Guilty Nannies* by John Jakes

#122 (5) Murder Made in Moscow Oct, 1959

Cover artwork by Luszcz
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Murder Made in Moscow by Baynard Kendrick
Sign of the Thunderbolt by Lawrence G. Blochman
Adventure of the Little Hangman by August Derleth
The Legation Cigar by Carl Jacobi
Lunatic's Dictionary* by Leticia V. Ramos
The Honest Fakirs* by John Jakes

#123 (6) Murder in the Family Oct, 1959

Cover photo by Bob Ritta
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Murder in the Family by Craig Rice
Beast of Prey* by Talmage Powell
Ceremony Slightly Delayed by B. Traven
The Raised Dollar by Jonathan Trumbull
The Dead Dodos* by John Jakes
A Filipino "FBI" H.S. Singh

#124 (7) Death Stops at a Tourist Camp Dec, 1959

Cover photo by Guiseppi Bellanca
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Death Stops at a Tourist Camp by Leslie Ford
Hula Homicide by Will Oursler
The Big Deal by Stewart Sterling
I Came to Kill by Irving E. Cox

#125 (8) Red Snow at Darjeeling Dec, 1959

Cover photo by Sid Miller
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Red Snow at Darjeeling (full novel) by Lawrence G. Blochman

#126 (9) Executioner's Signature Jan, 1960

Cover artwork by Frank Kalin
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
The Executioner's Signature by George Fielding Eliot
Vengeance John Stephens
Miss Clarissa and the Grand Duchess* by Ivar Thorne
Flame at Twilight* by Edward D. Hoch
Bud of Paradise* by Ranjee Shahani

#127 (10) Murder Seeks an Agent Jan, 1960

Cover photo by Guiseppi Bellanca
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Murder Seeks an Agent (full novel) by Wenzell Brown

#128 (11) Let Her Kill Herself Feb, 1960

Cover artwork by Frank Kalin
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Let Her Kill Herself by Rufus King
Find One Cuckaboo* by Harlan Ellison
This Above All* by Leighla Whipper
Ten Lost Bombs* by John Jakes
Dry Dust Judith Merril

#129 (12) Innocent Bystander Feb, 1960

Cover photo by Sid Miller
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Innocent Bystander (full novel) Craig Rice

#130 (13) Death Walks in Marble Halls Mar, 1960

Cover artwork by Leonard Goldberg
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
Premiere of Murder by Fredric Brown
Death Walks in Marble Halls by Lawrence G. Blochman
Mimic Murder by Cornell Woolrich
Night of Gaiety* by Robert Andrea
The Seven New Saints* by John Jakes

#131 (14) The Rum and Coca-Cola Murders Mar, 1960

Larry Gordon
Introduction by Leslie Charteris
The Rum and Coca-Cola Murders* by Wenzell Brown
Calypsonian by Samuel Selvon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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