Modesty Blaise

November 8th, 2012Posted by Nancy

Modesty Blaise
By rights, Modesty Blaise should come much later in the influence sequence, but a friend mentioned this series the other day, which sent me back to reread the first two.

I think the second of the series (Sabre-Tooth) made it’s way into our house in one of the boxes of books that my Dad brought home (this was definitely a major benefit of having a parent work in the book business). After determining that no sabre-tooth tigers were involved, I ignored it for months, maybe even years. When I finally did read it, I was instantly converted to a fan. I gradually found the other books, mostly used, which results in a interesting range of cover treatments.

In my rereading, I discovered that they hold up remarkably well. The writing is economical and clear, the humour sophisicated and utterly embedded in the characters, the plots (at least in the first books) not too outlandish, and the ingenuity with which Modesty and Willie get out of yet another life-threatening situation always entertaining. However, it’s the characters that always set these books apart from so many other spy thrillers. Despite her comic strip origins, Modesty is a rich and complicated hero. There is nothing camp or comical about her, beyond her own sense of humour. She is fierce, strong-willed, intelligent, brave and professional. She can command criminals and soldiers, plan and execute complicated “capers”, and never backs away from the hard choice. She always gets the boy, so to speak, but none of them ever get her for a moment longer than she chooses. She is loyal, fair, and – to the benefit of the British government – a “compulsive payer of debts”.

I always thought “What would Modesty do?” would make a good mantra – but there’s no way I could ever live up to that.

I see reflections of her in the characters I created as a teenager and suspect that if I were to ever write a fight scene, it would be a lot like a Modesty Blaise one.

I wish that someone would make a movie that does her justice, if only to set a new group of fans hunting for stories about a character who was always so much more than just “the female James Bond.”

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