May 30, 2010
As readers may be aware, author Peter O’Donnell died a few weeks ago, and the profusion of obituary posts about him prompted me to dig out the three Modesty Blaise paperbacks I have in my posession, and re-read them. You can see from the pictures in this post that they’re a little battered, but rather attractive-looking for all that — probably much like Ms. Blaise herself.
Lots has already been written about the origins of Modesty Blaise, so rather than re-hash it here, I’ll just point you in the direction of Crime Time, where the story comes direct from Peter O’Donnell himself.
Since I first read these a few years ago, I’ve always considered Modesty Blaise an inspiring role model. She’s strong, sexy, intelligent, independent and utterly capable; a woman who successfully takes on the world entirely on her own terms, but retains her integrity and remains lacking in any hubris. It’s hard not to be impressed with a woman who is described like this:
“In the past fourty-eight hours a poison capsule had been cut out of her body; she had thought Willie dead, found he was alive and fought a carefully faked duel; she had made a four-hour swim, paddled a canoe for six hours, slept for ten, tested her shoulder in combat, made complex plans and preparations. And now…”
When you read it like that, it all seems highly improbable, which is sort of the point. Reading it in context, however, it doesn’t seem quite so implausible, which is down to O’Donnell’s exquisite attention to ensuring every detail is accurate, and his uncanny knack of creating one scary, cold-blooded villain after another.
I’ve never seen any of the cinema adaptations that currently exist, but I’ve often though that Modesty Blaise was a character just crying out for a proper cinematic adaptation: a truly strong independent woman who could give a sexy high-kick along with the best of them, and guarantee more action than that boring old chauvanist James Bond (of whom I will be writing about in future posts, of course).
(One thing I’ve noticed is that many of the online tributes to O’Donnell mention that Modesty Blaise is known as the High Priestess of Pulp, which is why I used it as the post-title, but I’ve been unable to discover who first coined that epithet — does anyone know?)