Simon Templar is a Robin Hood-like criminal known as The Saint – plausibly from his initials, but the exact reason for his nickname is unknown (although the reader is told that he was given it at the age of nineteen). Templar has aliases, often using the initials S.T. such as "Sebastian Tombs" or "Sugarman Treacle". Blessed with boyish humour, he makes humorous and off-putting remarks and leaves a "calling card" at his "crimes," a stick figure of a man with a halo over his head. This is used as the logo of the books, the movies, and the 1960s TV series. He is described as "buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile".
His origin remains a mystery; he is explicitly British, but in early books (e.g. Meet the Tiger) there are references which suggest that he had spent some time in the United States battling Prohibition bad guys. Presumably, his acquaintance with Bronx sidekick Hoppy Uniatz dates from this period. In the books, his income is derived from the pockets of the "ungodly" (as he terms those who live by a lesser moral code than his own), whom he is given to "socking on the boko." There are references to a "ten percent collection fee" to cover expenses when he extracts large sums from victims, the remainder being returned to the owners, given to charity, shared among Templar's colleagues, or some combination of those possibilities.
Templar's targets include corrupt politicians, warmongers, and other low life. "He claims he's a Robin Hood," says one victim, "but to me he's just a robber and a hood." Robin Hood appears to be one inspiration for the character; Templar stories were often promoted as featuring "The Robin Hood of modern crime," and this phrase to describe Templar appears in several stories. A term used by Templar to describe his acquisitions is "boodle," a term also applied to the short story collection.
The Saint has a dark side, as he is willing to ruin the lives of the "ungodly," and even kill them, if he feels that more innocent lives can be saved. In the early books, Templar refers to this as murder, although he considers his actions justified and righteous, a view usually shared by partners and colleagues. Several adventures centre on his intention to kill. (For example, "Arizona" in The Saint Goes West has Templar planning to kill a Nazi scientist.)
During the 1920s and early 1930s, The Saint is fighting European arms dealers, drug runners, and white slavers while based in his London home. His battles with Rayt Marius mirror the 'four rounds with Carl Petersen' of Hugh "Bull-dog" Drummond. During the first half of the 1940s, Charteris cast Templar as a willing operative of the American government, fighting Nazi interests in the United States during World War II.
Beginning with the "Arizona" novella, Templar is fighting his own war against Germany. The Saint Steps In reveals that Templar is operating on behalf of a mysterious American government official known as Hamilton who appears again in the next WWII-era Saint book, The Saint on Guard, and Templar is shown continuing to act as a secret agent for Hamilton in the first post-war novel, The Saint Sees it Through. The later books move from confidence games, murder mysteries, and wartime espionage, and place Templar as a global adventurer.
According to Saint historian Burl Barer, Charteris made the decision to remove Templar from his usual confidence-game trappings, not to mention his usual co-stars Uniatz, girlfriend Patricia Holm, valet Orace, and police foil Claud Eustace Teal, as they were all inappropriate for the post-war stories he was writing.
Although The Saint functions as an ordinary detective in some stories, others depict ingenious plots to get even with vanity publishers and other rip-off artists, greedy bosses who exploit their workers, con men, etc.
The Saint has many partners, though none last throughout the series. For the first half until the late 1940s, the most recurrent is Patricia Holm, his girlfriend, who was introduced in the first story, the 1928 novel Meet the Tiger, in which she shows herself a capable adventurer. Holm appeared erratically throughout the series, sometimes disappearing for books at a time. Templar and Holm lived together in a time when common-law relationships were uncommon and, in some areas, illegal.
They have an easy, non-binding relationship, as Templar is shown flirting with other women from time to time. However, his heart remains true to Holm in the early books, culminating in his considering marriage in the novella The Melancholy Journey of Mr. Teal, only to have Holm say she had no interest in marrying. Holm disappeared in the late 1940s, and according to Barer's history of The Saint, Charteris refused to allow Templar a steady girlfriend, or Holm to return. (However, according to the Saintly Bible website, Charteris did write a film story that would have seen Templar encountering a son he had had with Holm.) Holm's final appearance as a character was in the short stories "Iris," "Lida," and "Luella," contained within the 1948 collection Saint Errant; the next direct reference to her does not appear in print until the 1983 novel Salvage for the Saint.
Another recurring character, Scotland Yard Inspector Claud Eustace Teal, could be found attempting to put The Saint behind bars, although in some books they work in partnership. In The Saint in New York, Teal's American counterpart, NYPD Inspector John Henry Fernack, was introduced, and he would become, like Teal, an Inspector Lestrade-like foil and pseudo-nemesis in a number of books, notably the American-based World War II novels of the 1940s.
The Saint had a band of compatriots, including Roger Conway, Norman Kent, Archie Sheridan, Richard "Dicky" Tremayne (a name that appeared in the 1990s TV series, Twin Peaks), Peter Quentin, Monty Hayward, and his ex-military valet, Orace.
In later stories, the dim-witted and constantly soused but reliable American thug Hoppy Uniatz was at Templar's side. Of The Saint's companions, only Norman Kent was killed during an adventure (he sacrifices himself to save Templar in the novel The Last Hero); the other males are presumed to have settled down and married (two to former female criminals: Dicky Tremayne to "Straight Audrey" Perowne and Peter Quentin to Kathleen "The Mug" Allfield; Archie Sheridan is mentioned to have married in "The Lawless Lady" in Enter the Saint, presumably to Lilla McAndrew after the events of the story "The Wonderful War" in Featuring the Saint).
Charteris gave Templar interests and quirks as the series went on. Early talents as an amateur poet and songwriter were displayed, often to taunt villains, though the novella The Inland Revenue established that poetry was also a hobby. That story revealed that Templar wrote an adventure novel featuring a South American hero not far removed from The Saint himself.
Templar also on occasion would break the fourth wall in an almost metafictional sense, making references to being part of a story and mentioning in one early story how he cannot be killed so early on; the 1960s television series would also have Templar address viewers. Charteris in his narrative also frequently breaks the fourth wall by making references to the "chronicler" of The Saint's adventures and directly addressing the reader. In the story "The Sizzling Saboteur" in The Saint on Guard Charteris inserts his own name. In the story "Judith" in
The Saint Errant is the line, "'This,' the Saint said to nobody in particular, 'sounds like one of those stories that fellow Charteris might write.'" Furthermore, in the 1955 story "The Unkind Philanthropist," published in the collection The Saint on the Spanish Main, Templar states outright that (in his fictional universe) his adventures are indeed written about by a man named Leslie Charteris.