Showing posts with label Modesty Blaise. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modesty Blaise. Show all posts

Friday, March 24, 2023

Modesty Blaise - Pieces of Modesty

Pieces of Modesty is a collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories by Peter O’Donnell written in the 1960s and compiled into one paperback volume published in 1972. The book remains available today as a paperback reprint and ebook.

For the uninitiated, Modesty Blaise is a former Baltic organized crime boss who retired and now works as a British spy along with her hyper-competent sidekick, Willie Garvin. The series began as a comic strip and evolved into a popular series of novels. Pieces of Modesty is the first of two short story collections written by O’Donnell.

“A Better Day to Die”

Modesty and Willie are traveling through a Latin American Banana Republic, so Modesty can say goodbye to an old member of her criminal network who is now dying at the ancient age of 60. A mishap with their car leaves Modesty bumming a ride in a school bus with a missionary preacher and his students. On the ride, Modesty has to endure the pacifist reverend’s diatribe against the violence Modesty has deployed throughout her life.

The excitement heats up with the bus is forced off the road by guerrillas who take the passengers hostage. Will the preacher change his stance when Modesty does her thing to save their collective hides? This story is pure awesomeness and made me wish straight-up action-adventure short stories were more of a phenomena outside the pulps.

“The Giggle-Wrecker”

The British government wants a wannabe defector scientist out of East Berlin and working in London for the Good Guys. However, bringing a valuable human asset from the other side of the Iron Curtain is no easy feat. The solution? Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin.

This reminds me of a heist story where a team of professionals needs to smuggle contraband out of a secured area and everything goes to holy hell in the process. Tack on a very clever twist ending and we have some very fun reading, indeed.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet”

This story is noteworthy in the Modesty Blaise universe because it’s the only one narrated in the first person by Modesty’s badass, Cockney sidekick, Willie Garvin,. When not running missions with “The Princess,” Willie runs a pub 25 miles from London called The Treadmill.

In the story, Willie is involved in a casual dating situation with a one-legged gentry gal named Lady Janet. One night before a date with Janet, Willie learns that Modesty has been kidnapped by an old nemesis looking to exact revenge. Will Willie break his date with Lady Janet to rescue Modesty? You betcha.

This is another great story, and having Willie as a narrator was a lot of fun. It really was his adventure - like a Sherlock story featuring an adventure of Watson. Don’t skip this one. Savor it.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck”

Modesty and Willie are enjoying catching up with some old friends over dinner in France. As they're leaving the restaurant, the group is attacked by knife-wielding thugs. Why on earth would someone mount an attack so ham-handed and lacking finesse? The mystery deepens as the attacks keep coming in different venues.

I had trouble connecting with this story or even understanding the stakes and character motivations. You may have better luck. Alternatively, it can safely be skipped altogether.

“Salamander Four”

Modesty Blaise is working a side-hustle as a model for a sculptor in Finland, because, well, of course she is. And during the weeks of modeling for the artist, a lovemaking relationship ensues. One night during the sexual afterglow, a severely-wounded man comes to the house after having been pursued by gunmen through the night. Modesty and her sculptor provide the man sanctuary in the house.

The adventure thrusts Modesty into the world of industrial espionage and gentlemen thieves. Bonus points for some cool knife work from Willie Garvin. This story is another winner.

“The Soo Girl Charity”

The final story of the collection has an oddly comical set-up. A wealthy industrialist jerk pinches Modesty’s ass on the street, and she decides that he owes her $5,000 for the pleasure. She and Willie plan a complicated operation to collect the money through a safecracking burglary heist.

During the burglary itself, the duo stumbles upon indicators that the target is into something way more sinister than pinching bottoms, and the story unfolds from there. This is a great heist story with a clever plan for revenge and a handful of surprises along the way. Whatever you do, don’t skip this one.

Paperback Warrior Assessment

Pieces of Modesty is one of the finest single-author, recurring-character, short story collections I’ve ever read. There just aren’t enough short story collections from the action-adventure paperback era, so savor this one. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 19

In this episode, we have a hardboiled discussion regarding censorship in our favorite genres. Eric reviews “Bloody Jungle” by Charles Runyon and Tom covers “Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’Donnell. You don’t want to miss this one! Stream below or on your favorite podcasting service. Download the episode directly at (LINK)

Listen to "Episode 19: Hardboiled Censorship" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Modesty Blaise #01 - Modesty Blaise

The character of Modesty Blaise was conceived as a comic strip in 1963 by British writer Peter O’Donnell. The success of the strip landed O’Donnell a film deal, and he wrote an early draft of the screenplay starring his sexy, female spy for a movie that was eventually released in 1966. A year before the movie’s release, O’Donnell adapted his unproduced screenplay into the first of 11 Modesty Blaise paperback novels in this highly-regarded series.

Unlike a lot of action series paperbacks that join the fully-formed main character in progress, “Modesty Blaise” is a true origin story of the female gang leader turned spy. Modesty grew up an orphan in a Baltic refugee camp and worked her way into the position of a wealthy, international organized crime leader before retiring to Great Britain at age 26. Modesty’s unusual skill set, gained from running a clandestine network, comes to the attention of the British Special Intelligence Service (SIS) who want to recruit her as an operative.

At the paperback’s opening, SIS bosses travel to Modesty’s opulent London penthouse on a recruiting mission, and the reader is treated to a run down of her remarkable biographic history. The government guys have an ace-in-the-hole: her long-time friend and former sidekick, Willie Garvin, is being held in a prison in a far-flung banana republic and will likely be hanged in a week. They provide Modesty with the details on Willie’s confinement in exchange for a favor to be named later. This is the perfect tactic to use on Modesty - as opposed to, say, blackmail - because of her sense of loyalty and honor.

Modesty’s first order of business is to plan and execute a prison break to free Willie (the sidekick, not the whale). It’s important to note that Modesty is a badass similar to Scarlett Johansson’s version of Black Widow from the Marvel movies. Once reunited, Modesty and Willie share that they are both bored-as-hell with retired life and want to get back into the action. Maybe the favor that the British clandestine service wanted can liven up their lives?

The government’s assignment for Modesty involves a massive shipment of diamonds to a middle-eastern Sheik in trade for a sizable shipment of oil. The Brit intel chief is worried that there are plans afoot to hijack the diamonds and wants Modesty to use her middle-eastern underworld connections to determine if such a plot exists and to thwart it before the diamonds are stolen. It’s this storyline that provides the core of the novel.

Quite ignorantly, I always lumped the ‘Modesty Blaise’ series in with the slew of moronic, female James Bond parodies - like ‘The Baroness’ or ‘Cherry Delight: Agent of N.Y.M.P.H.O.’ However, it’s clear that O’Donnell had a real vision for his character that went beyond a T&A spy lampoon, and his writing is superb. Without question,Modesty is a sexy operative, but her debut adventure is never cartoonish (oddly, considering the character’s comic strip origin), pandering, or stupid.

I don’t want to spoil much else, but I will say that the villain of this Modesty Blaise prose debut was extremely well-drawn, sadistic, and violently unhinged. This debut really does everything right, and I’m excited to read the next installment.

Based solely on the debut, here’s where the series stands in the larger spectrum of 20th Century spy-adventure series:

Modesty Blaise is...

- Way better than ‘Nick Carter: Killmaster’
- One notch better than the ‘Sam Durrell Assignment’ books by Edward S. Aarons
- Slightly better than ‘Malko’ by Gerard de Villiers
- Solidly better than Don Smith’s ‘Secret Mission’ series
- Light years better than ‘The Baroness’ by Paul Kenyon
- A good deal better than the ‘Joe Gall’ books by Philip Atlee
- A little bit better than The Man from U.N.C.L.E. novels
- Not as good as the first 10 ‘Matt Helm’ books by Donald Hamilton

Buy a copy of this book HERE