on 28 March 2003
A scarce and much sought after collection of six Modesty adventures that roam the world.
"A Better Way To Die" is a hostage situation in South America, with a cricket loving pacifist clergyman;"The Giggle Wrecker" shows new aspects of Modesty and Willie as they attempt to smuggle a tetchy Japanese scientist over the Berlin Wall;"I Had A date With Lady Janet" has Willie rescue Modesty from kidnap; "A Perfect Night To Break Your Neck" has regulars the Colliers as part of a story that features gem thieves and a BIG kite; "Salamander Four" features sculpture and assassination in Finland, and "The Soo Girl Charity" starts off as a burglary caper that becomes something more.
First published in 1972, these stories are more than just 'fillers' but add to the rich store than makes Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin such timeless, fascinating characters over their (unbelieveable but true) 40 year career.
A satisfying and varied read of short stories that are complete and complex adventures in themselves. Conoisseurs will especially relish "I Had A Date With Lady Janet" - the only Modesty adventure told both in the first person, and by the inestimable Willie Garvin! Which would make the high price for any (rarely)available collector copies worthwhile all on it's own....which is not to underestimate the others stories in this collection, of course!
on 4 October 2006
"Pieces of Modesty" is a collection of six short stories about Modesty Blaise and her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin. It was published in 1972 after Peter O'Donnell had written five novels about Modesty and Willie from 1965 to 1971 and achieved great success with them.
All six of these short stories are quite good, with several of them being very good. In the mini-reviews below I've given five stars to four of the stories, and four stars to two of them.
But beyond the stories being very good in their own right they also provide a more complete image of Modesty and Willie. For die-hard Modesty fans this is almost as valuable as the enjoyment of the stories as isolated stories.
In this rather long review I'll take a closer look at each story.
But first a general comment: The strength of these stories (and the whole Modesty series of books) is the character of the persons in the stories. In Modesty stories we find people with unusual personalities, people with some special character trait that is fascinating, people with amazingly strong drives, etc. This, together with the unique relationship between Modesty and Willie, gives the stories their distinctive appeal.
On the negative side is the fact that the book, at only 183 pages, is much too short. You can practically read the whole book during a single afternoon. Also, some of the stories are a bit too contrived. Finally, it irritates me that Modesty and Willie are still smoking so much.
In summary, highly recommended, even today, although the book is, of course, rather dated.
"A Better Day to Die" - 5 stars
This story takes place in South America and features a violence-hating British missionary who discovers violence in an unexpected place: his own deepest human nature. Modesty and the missionary fall into the hands of a rag-tag band of guerillas in the jungle. When Willie comes to their rescue there's a pitched battle with machine guns and sniper's rifles, until the missionary decisively ends the fighting in a very unexpected way.
The British missionary and his marked personality and the neat twist in the plot based on his character are the best parts of this story. Other good parts include the wonderful teamwork between Modesty and Willie and descriptions of their great fighting abilities.
The quote that provides the title for this review ("Tomorrow's always a better day to die.") is uttered by Modesty in a state of post-battle exhaustion, and serves as a nice insight into her way of looking at life.
"The Giggle-Wrecker" - 5 stars
This is a Cold War spy/agent story occurring in East Berlin, and is thus rather dated. (It's amazing to think that members of the youngest generation today don't realize that Germany and Berlin were divided for many years. Or is it the fact that Germany and Berlin were divided for all those years that's amazing?)
A Japanese scientist who has worked for the Russians for 20 years has decided to defect to the West and has made it to East Berlin. Now he's demanding that Britain's sleeper network of East German spies be activated to get him through the Berlin Wall to the West. Modesty and Willie offer to do the job and thus avoid exposing the British spy network. The method they use to get the Japanese scientist over the Wall is ingenious and unexpected, to say the least.
This story shines for being quite funny at times, and for the ingenuity shown on the part of Modesty and Willie. Modesty's use of the kongo in close-up combat and the trickiness of the opposition are also nice points.
"I Had a Date with Lady Janet" - 5 stars
The most interesting thing about this story is that it's told by Willie Garvin in the first person. This story also marks the introduction of Lady Janet Gillam into the "Modesty family" - she reappears in several of the later books, playing a major role in "The Silver Mistress".
The story starts at Willie's pub, The Treadmill, and then moves to a castle in a desolate part of Scotland. Rodelle, an old enemy of Modesty and Willie, has resurfaced and has captured Modesty and is using her as bait to lure Willie into the trap. Rodelle is consumed by revenge, and has a horrific plan for what he is going to do to Modesty and Willie.
High points include Willie's treatment of Fitch, Rodelle's messenger, and Willie continuing in his rescue mission despite suffering an incapacitating (for anyone else) injury. The twist in the story at the end is also in keeping with the character-driven aspect of most Modesty stories.
Incidentally, this short story was recorded as an audio program and sold on cassette tape back in the early 1980's. The reader was John Thaw, and he does a good job of being Willie Garvin. It may be possible to find an MP3 version of this floating around on the Internet.
"A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck" - 4 stars
This story takes place on the French Riviera, and is the weakest one in this collection. Dinah Pilgrim and Stephen Collier, two long-time members of the "Modesty family", are spending a vacation together with Modesty and Willie. The plot involves a mad playboy and a not-very-believable gang of thieves who prey on parties attended by rich jetsetters.
The best part of this story is the description of how Modesty and Willie make use of a hang-gliding wing towed by a speedboat as a way of getting aboard the playboy's yacht while sailing at sea. This is a typical Modesty device, making use of the latest developments in sporting activities as a tool that can be used against the bad guys.
On the down side, the story is too contrived, with things being obviously set up to allow a certain ending. The way in which Modesty manipulates the situation to "save" Dinah and Stephen is not all that charming when you think it through.
"Salamander Four" - 5 stars
An isolated spot in Finland in the snowy, icy winter provides the location for this story. Alex Hemmer is a recluse and an artist, a sculptor, and has been hired to make a sculpture of Modesty. Then a man who has been shot by the bad guys shows up on the doorstep of Alex' home/studio. Modesty takes the man under her wing despite strenuous objections from Alex, who, due to terrible experiences in his youth, has decided to refuse to involve himself in any kind of conflict.
The bad guys, from the organization Salamander Four, show up in search of their victim. First Modesty fools them, and then she and Willie (who comes to the aid of the party) take the bad guys out. Alex maintains his policy of non-involvement, and Modesty and Willie respect this.
There is a nice erotic interlude in this story that, although not totally unknown, is fairly unusual for a Modesty story. The insights into the character of an isolated artist and his interaction with the forces of the real world are appealing, as is Modesty's love of people who bring a bit of style to their endeavors. And as usual the teamwork between Modesty and Willie is great, as are the descriptions of their fighting skills.
"The Soo Girl Charity" - 4 stars
This story starts in London and then moves to a manor house in Surrey, just south of London. Charles Leybourn, a disgusting millionaire businessman, has brutally pinched Modesty's bottom and now it's payback time. But what was intended as a light-hearted raid to teach Leybourn a lesson turns ugly when Modesty and Willie encounter Leybourn's wife Soo, a beautiful young girl from Indonesia. It turns out that Leybourn is a real sadist, and has tortured Soo to the point where Soo is about to commit suicide.
What to do? How much can Modesty and Willie intervene in what is basically a problem that Soo should handle herself, although she's apparently incapable? And then the plot takes an unexpected twist. And then everything is turned upside down on the last page.
This story suffers from being a bit too contrived, and especially the idea of sending Soo half way around the world all on her lonesome with a bag full of money is obviously inviting disaster. On the plus side the light-heartedness of the first part of the story is really nice and the ingenious method by which Modesty and Willie gain entry to Leybourn's safe is great. Willie's joyful anticipation ("That'd be nice. It's a long time since we stole anything.") at the prospect of ripping Leybourn off is especially amusing.
In summary, four great stories and two good ones. The stories are enjoyable on their own merits, and for the real Modesty fans the additional information about Modesty and Willie is very satisfying.
on 4 February 2013
Modesty Blaise is a female adventurer, secret agent and thief. First appearing as a newspaper cartoon strip in 1963, her expliots were later published in text format in a series of novels written by creator Peter O'Donnell.
I have read some of the comic strip compilations and been surprised by the quality of the writng but had never come across the text novels. I found this in a charity shop for 45p, read it in one sitting and was hooked.
This is a 1972 collection of six short stories, taking us from South America, East Germany, Finland, Scotland, London and the Riviera. Witty, sharp and amusing, O'Donnell writes with style and lightness. The plots are ingenious and neat, highlighting Modesty's and Willie's near psychic teamwork.
Overall a revelation, much better than I expected. Some spectacularly misjudged comments on rape and the odd racial stereotype aside, super entertainment. I now have another series to get into - Hooray!