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Modesty Blaise (Modesty Blaise series) Paperback – October 28, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In the beginning there was Modesty. Cooler than the pretentious James Bond, tougher than the brain-dead Mike Hammer."  —Lauren Henderson, author, Chained and Dead White Female

About the Author

Peter O'Donnell created Modesty Blaise as a strip cartoon that was syndicated in more than 42 countries. The strip led to a series of novels about Modesty and her faithful lieutenant, Willie Garvin.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modesty Blaise series
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press; Reprint edition (October 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285637282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285637283
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Lots of 'firsts' in this novel. The first appearance of Sir Gerald Tarrant, the father-like head of British Intelligence, and Gabriel, a ruthless and ancient adversary of Modesty Blaise. We are also privy to Modesty's past as a young girl, whom O'Donnell portrays as a brilliant neophyte, creating the criminal organization known as The Network. Additionally, we are provided the origin of her unique and deeply intimate friendship (always platonic) with Willie Garvin, an astute and proficient 'comrade-in-arms.'

Although the book is cumbersome at times with technical descriptions involving an elaborate heist, the action and excitement outweigh it. Look for a spectacular hand-to-hand battle between Modesty and Mrs. Fothergill, one of Gabriel's eccentric bodyguards. Mrs. Fothergill is portrayed as chillingly cold-blooded and combat-competent, yet Modesty's fighting expertise is more than a match for Mrs. Fothergill's martial arts and gymnastic acumen.

Modesty Blaise is far from an ordinary 'spy' (hardly a 007 rip-off). In fact, she's an exceptional woman way ahead of her time!
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Format: Paperback
The above quotation is uttered by Willie Garvin at the end of chapter 18 of "Modesty Blaise". Two chapters later the book is over, and readers can agree with Willie and conclude that this book is different. Enjoyably and intriguingly different.

"Modesty Blaise" was Peter O'Donnell's first book, published in 1965 when he was 45 years old. Prior to that he had had a long career as the author of scripts for comic strips and writing short stories. In fact, the Modesty Blaise character was first launched as a comic strip in a London newspaper in 1963, so Peter O'Donnell had the background and major story elements well worked out when he wrote this book.

This book became the first book in a series of 11 novels and two collections of short stories about Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, Modesty's loyal and trusted companion.

In this review I'll concentrate on certain aspects of the book "Modesty Blaise" itself, in the hopes that the reader already has a general knowledge of the whole Modesty Blaise series of books. If this is not the case then you may want to look at my "So You'd Like To" guide about books by Peter O'Donnell. It includes a link to my MSN group about Modesty Blaise where you can find more information about this whole series of books and why I love them.

In "Modesty Blaise" the basic story is that Modesty, a former criminal, is recruited to the side of the good guys. She and Willie then go up against a ruthless team of bad guys and find themselves captured and scheduled to be killed. In order to survive despite the incredible odds against them they have to fight for their lives, using their fighting skills and their ingenuity.

In this book Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin are introduced to us in a very effective way.
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I learned of Modesty Blaise when reading "The Psychology of The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo" by Robin S. Rosenberg who mentions Stieg Larson was a big fan of the Modesty books. Modesty is a tough, brilliant and beautiful woman along the lines of The Avenger's Mrs. Peale, but more deadly. She is expert in martial arts and a variety of weapons. If these books were wrtten in this decade instead of the 60's, she would probably also be computer geek extraordinaire . Don't be put off by the tacky cover illustrations, the books are about brilliant, daring and often outlandish escapades (including - spoiler alert - shooting a defector over the Berlin Wall via a circus canon) rather than sexual encounters, which are plentiful but not explicit, very much a la Ian Fleming's James Bond and with humor like Lawrence Block's Tanner series. The books are entertaining, clever, humorous, thrilling and very well wriiten. I'm sorry there are only 13 books and the author sadly is no more.

If you want to read them in order:

Modesty Blaise
Sabre Tooth
I, Lucifer
A Taste For Death
Impossible Virgin
Pieces of Modesty
The Silver Mistress
Last Day In Limbo
Dragon's Claw
The Xanadu Talisman
The Night of Morningstar
Dead Man's Handle
Cobra Trap
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Format: Paperback
Okay, so you've seen Quentin Tarantino's movie "Pulp Fiction." And you've noticed that every time Vincent Vega (John Travolta) goes to the bathroom, he takes a book along to read. What's he reading? "Modesty Blaise."

Why would Vincent want to read Modesty Blaise? Because he's cool and Modesty's cool-- she's a product of British "cool," circa 1965-- and it doesn't get any cooler than that. Meet Modesty and her pal Willie and join them on their action-packed adventures, and you'll see why Tarantino worships Modesty, and why he (pretty obviously) patterned much of Uma Thurman's character "The Bride" after Modesty in the movie "Kill Bill." Modesty Blaise is the ultimate action heroine-- try this, her first adventure (in book form, anyway-- she'd been a comic book figure for awhile by the time this came out), and enjoy.
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Format: Paperback
I’m not sure why film makers of the mid-1960s thought they had to turn serious genre literature into juvenile camp, but one of the worst offenses was undoubtedly done to Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise series (another was the mockery made of Donald Hamilton’s excellent—and serious—Matt Helm books in a series of films starring Dean Martin as Helm). O’Donnell had originally created the Modesty character for a comic strip and when it proved popular, he was approached to write a screenplay.

That became the basis for the book Modesty Blaise, the first in what would become a series of eleven novels and two short story collections. O’Donnell’s screenplay, extensively rewritten for the worse, also eventually produced a movie starring Italian actress Monica Vitti as the title character, which came out about a year after the book. That movie is atrocious not only on its own but especially as an adaptation of O’Donnell’s work (how atrocious? imagine the worst of Roger Moore’s 1970s James Bond films that you can think of and start subtracting from there…). Perhaps most offensively, a killing that takes place about halfway through the book and serves as a moral barometer for the characters—Modesty’s reaction is both touching and a validation of her fundamental decency and humanity—is in the movie treated basically as a joke (unsurprisingly, an unfunny one).

Fortunately, the movie bombed while the book sold well. Score one for the public’s good taste.

Maybe someone one day will do justice to Modesty Blaise on the big screen (paging Quentin Tarantino…). If you read the book, you will see what a good movie it could be made into, with plenty of action as well as intriguing inter character relationships and plenty of suspense.

I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise books in due course.
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