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"Yes, he's pretty good for a vicar. Who gets first crack at him?"
on 28 September 2007
"Dragon's Claw" is the ninth book in the Modesty Blaise series, and was first published in 1978. This book, like the others in the series, features Modesty Blaise and her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin in an action thriller, pitted against some really nasty bad guys.
The story is fairly satisfying. The bad guys are kidnapping and killing people from the world of the arts for a reason that is unusual but not totally farfetched. Modesty, while sailing a yacht single-handed from Australia to New Zealand, rescues Luke Fletcher, a world-renowned painter. Luke Fletcher had disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea several months previous and was presumed dead - how in the world did he end up adrift in a dingy in the Tasman Sea?
This rescue leads to a relationship between Modesty and Luke, and eventually to a hunt for the bad guys, and finally to an action-packed climax on Dragon's Claw Island. A high point is a Wild West style duel with handguns between Modesty and the Reverend Uriah Crisp, a gun-toting minister who has proven that he is faster on the draw than Modesty!
The quotation that heads this review, "Yes, he's pretty good for a vicar. Who gets first crack at him?", is Modesty's remark after Uriah Crisp has demonstrated his prowess with a six-shooter, and Modesty and Willie have been told that they are scheduled to die in duels against the Reverend Crisp. (page 235)
Although I found the story satisfying, I also found it a bit contrived. If one bothers to analyze the plot in the last four chapters one realizes that there are several more obvious ways in which Modesty and Willie could have escaped from captivity on Dragon's Claw Island. But then the story wouldn't have had such a nice climax, so we accept the contrived story as a minor negative point.
A more serious problem is the portrayal of the bad guys, in particular Beauregard Browne (with an "e"). Peter O'Donnell was obviously striving for an interesting combination of an upper class Englishman with campy/gay tendencies (and frilly lilac shirts and painted toenails) who was still a deadly and formidable opponent for Modesty and Willie. For me it doesn't quite work. I find Beauregard Browne (with an "e") more silly than scary. A thriller depends to a large extent on the nastiness of the bad guys, and this is the weakest aspect of "Dragon's Claw".
Otherwise the book has the usual mix of very positive elements found in all of the Modesty Blaise books. This includes the unusual relationship between Modesty and Willie, the intelligent and humorous slant on things and Modesty's and Willie's inventiveness and their amazing fighting skills.
The book is very well written, and Peter O'Donnell has a great command of the (British) English language and a wonderful way with words. Consider the following sentence:
"There was an almost unlimited number of vexations she (Mrs. Rigby) found insupportable, such as abstract art, amateur psychologists, association football, and Australian cricketers, to name only the first few alphabetically, but when she declared her inability to tolerate these affronts, she invariably described them as unique in this respect." (page 80)
In conclusion, not one of the best Modesty Blaise books, but still recommended, even after all these years. If you've never read a Modesty Blaise book then do yourself the favor of starting from the beginning of the series, both because there is a developing background to the stories and because the first six books in the series are the best.