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"Was bad combat move. Better I take Arab first ... he have submachine gun."
on 24 September 2007
Once again a great Modesty Blaise book marred by a major flaw.
"The Xanadu Talisman" is the tenth book in the Modesty Blaise series of books, and was written by Peter O'Donnell in 1981, i.e., 16 years after he had started the series with "Modesty Blaise" in 1965. By now the series was well established and very popular, with a large number of fans (including myself) waiting impatiently for each new book.
Unfortunately, by this time the series was on a slow downwards trend - my rating for each of the first seven books is four or five stars, while books eight, nine and ten only get three stars each. This is because there were two problems that were becoming more and more pronounced with the later books in the series: a repetitiveness in the basic plots and the way in which the bad guys were becoming less scary and invincible, and more weird and silly.
In this book, like most of the books in the series, Modesty and her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin encounter some nasty bad guys. Modesty and Willie get captured, and then, through their ingenuity and incredible fighting skills, they break out of imprisonment and win several battles against the bad guys.
The story in "The Xanadu Talisman" is quite good, sufficiently complicated to keep you guessing for a while. There are also several sub-plots that come together in a satisfying way, and a couple of interesting twists in the last three chapters. To avoid revealing too much I'll just say that a stolen (and re-stolen) treasure of immense value is involved as well as the kidnapping of a young English woman.
Much of the action occurs in and around Morocco. A wealthy Arab sheikh, Prince Rahim Mohajeri Azhari of Saudi Arabia, has built an isolated palace high in the Atlas Mountains. This is Xanadu, and it is here that the climax of the story occurs.
Unfortunately, Prince Rahim is not the top bad guy. (The book would have been better if he was.) Instead, the top bad guys are Nanny Pendergast and two young brothers, Jeremy and Dominic Silk. It turns out that Jeremy and Dominic were left in the care of Nanny Pendergast at a young age, and grew up being trained by their nanny to become top criminals and martial artists. Sounds crazy? I agree. No matter how deadly Peter O'Donnell portrays this trio they still come across as totally ridiculous, and this is an irreparable weakness in the book. A good thriller needs some really formidable bad guys, like the ones who populated the first five Modesty books, not wimps like the Silk brothers and their nanny.
On the plus side I can mention that Modesty and Willie have finally given up smoking, and that this book has a clever humorous ending, instead of the sugar-sweet endings of some of the previous books in the series.
I'll complete this review by explaining the quote that I used on the subject line, "Was bad combat move. Better I take Arab first ... he have submachine gun." (page 276) This can go down as "famous last words", having been uttered by one of the protagonists just before dying. In the heat of the final battle he found himself confronted by two enemies and chose to shoot the one he personally hated instead of the one who was more heavily armed. Bad combat move.
Recommended, but do yourself a favor and start reading the series from the start. The first six-seven books are the best.