Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

Going Out in a Blaise of Glory

I was very sad to learn that Peter O'Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise, had died, and even sadder that his death caused so little stir I only found out from the BBC's May roundup of Your C-List Celebrity Deaths Last Month.

I stumbled across Modesty during the peak of my spy fiction consumption. I can't remember where I picked up the first novel - it would have been a car boot sale or a charity shop - and, alas, I no longer seem to have that copy. But I was hooked.

It was some time before I discovered that Modesty made her first appearance as a comic strip in the Evening Standard. I preferred the books, which I grabbed whenever I got hold of them.

They have wonderful titles, these books: Sabre-Tooth, The Silver Mistress, The Impossible Virgin. They're well-written by pulp standards, with just the right quantities of violence and kinkiness for maximum titillation.

Vile villains and their freakish henchpersons abound. There are fiendish plots to take over the world, and gadgets that border on science fiction. Yet to call Modesty Blaise 'the female James Bond', as in the BBC obituary, does both characters a disservice.

Bond is on the side of the law, fighting for his-country-right-or-wrong; Blaise is a reformed criminal, on the side of what is morally right. Bond's upbringing was privileged; Blaise grew up on the streets. Bond is, to be honest, rather stuffy; Blaise delights in being unconventional. All they really have in common is a shared interest in clothes, weapons and sex.

With her stunning looks and healthy sex drive, Modesty sounds like the ultimate bloke fantasy - especially since her creator was male. She is very much her own woman, however, and there is little in her portrayal to offend feminists. Her thoughts, desires and motives run much deeper than the average action heroine's.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Modesty is her relationship with her sidekick, cheeky Cockney chappie Willie Garvin. It's a close, loving, chaste partnership which nothing can destroy.

Reading the novels in my teens, I enved Modesty her adventures and experience, her ability to charm the socks off everyone she met, and her utter cool. But most of all I envied her Willie.
Tags: books, spies
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