First UK Edition
First US Edition
I enjoy spy novels. Specifically those written during the 40’s thru 60’s timeframe. Think Ambler, Fleming (Bond), LeCarre (Smiley), Deighton (Unnamed spy), McInnes, Maclean, etc. So when a fellow aficionado assumed that I had read Peter O’Donnell‘s Modesty Blaise, he was shocked that I had not. ‘Isn’t that a comic strip’, I asked, ‘it is’, he replied but there were also some 11 novels and 2 collections of short stories written as well. Hummm….I decided I best investigate.
I seems that in 1962 strip writer Peter O’Donnell invented Modesty Blaise and with several different artists wrote the strip from 1963 until 2001. With the success of the strip, O’Donnell was asked to write a screenplay to bring Modesty to the big screen. The film, which was released in 1966, bore little or no resemblance to the screenplay. O’Donnell stated that he believed they used exactly one line from his screenplay in the final film. Needless to say the film bombed, but on the positive side, O’Donnell had also been asked to write a tie-in novel for the film, which he did, and the novel was a hit.
Over the next 20 years O’Donnell penned 11 more novels and 2 short story collections. The UK editions were all published by Souvenir Press which reissued the books in paperback using the original artwork in 2001. You might recognize the cover of the first US edition, it was the book that the John Travolta character was seen reading in the film Pulp Fiction.
I picked up the reissue of the first book in the series, Modesty Blaise and was pleasantly surprised. O’Donnell does an excellent job of writing a nicely paced story, fleshing out the characters just enough while keeping the story moving. We’re not talking ‘spy literature’ here in the vein of LeCarre or Deighton, it’s more on the scale of a Fleming minus product placement or MacLean with sex scenes. But, for what it is, it’s very well done. O’Donnell is a good writer, better than he is given credit for. The sex is frank, but not explicit, as you would expect for a book written in the early 60s. The characters of Modesty and her sidekick Willie Garvin are fleshed out just enough to make them interesting and the minor players, although a little thin, are well done in the space available. He does a nice job with the action scenes and gives enough ‘gun porn’ info for those so inclined. All in all I enjoyed the book and will continue with the series. If, like me, you are a fan of early spy fiction, Modesty Blaise is worth a look.