The ‘Modesty Blaise’ newspaper strips are down to the last four books now. If you’ve been missing out on my praise for this series or just wondering if you can backtrack to the earlier volumes, I’ve been told that once complete, Titan Books do intend to republicise the lot from the beginning. If, on the other hand, you’ve been reading them as they’ve come out, then you’ll love this latest 27th volume, ‘Ripper Jax’, the title coming from the first of four stories.
The name ‘Ripper Jax’ is both the title and the name of the antagonist in the opening story. An unprincipled criminal, currently living in a castle in Ireland, who thinks he’s the best knife expert in the world. He’s also after the two million pound haul from a heist while its thief is in prison. To that, he has inmates steal some of the thief’s hair and has bookseller and psychic Mr. Haley do a scan of the hair. Although he gives the details, he also senses something is wrong and alerts Modesty Blaise, who owes him a favour after the time he managed to pin-point an amnesic Willie Garvin, when he is told his daughter, Anne, is being held prisoner for him to keep quiet. Haley might not know who Jax is but he gives them enough information for them to work it out. What they don’t know is Anne tends to mix with riff-raff and been taken in…literally.
Much of this story now becomes spoiler as they plan and implement her rescue. In many respects, this is a much shorter story than usual and even the expected duel between Jax and Willie is even shorter than you’d expect, largely because the latter is really sneaky. In contrast, Romero’s art is top notch and some of his best illustrations of Modesty herself.
‘The Maori Contract’ is a lot more convoluted. Willie Garvin is in New Zealand helping Sir Gerald Tarrant’s nephew, Jason, carve a Maori boat. His wife, Carol, is an undiscovered grand-daughter of a man who left it lawyers to sort out his heirs and now stands to inherit a fortune except the grand-nephew, Martin Hayne, wants it all and has same a gangster gang to arrange an accident. Willie and Jason go to the rescue and the latter, thinking he’s going to be fired on, shoots his gun, killing one of them, despite Willie’s warning not to do anything stupid. Fortunately, Willie’s reputation precedes him and the chief gangster has to dispose of the body and they can hardly tell the police.
Modesty and Tarrant are already on their way over and they have to sort things out. As ever, Modesty and Willie’s reputation does tend to scare off all but those who think they have a chance. In this case, Carol’s death has to look like an accident for Hayne to plead innocence and this gives them the necessary edge to lay a trap and for that, you’ll have to read the rest of the story.
‘Honeygun’ returns at the beginning to Modesty and Willie’s days with The Network and, after making a profit for the year, decides to turn her attention to Sulieman’s racket of child trafficking and break it up. In the meantime, Modesty has her first solo meeting with the mysterious Moroccan tycoon Raoul Kiffis, whom she then discovers is backing Sulieman. It is also a trap for Modesty, who can’t draw a gun because Kiffis has Claudine, one of her employees, at gunpoint. Kiffis’ personal assistant is Honeygun, a top mercenary hit-woman who suddently changes alliances and helps Modesty, leaving her in her debt. Unfortunately, Honeygun also misreads Modesty’s intentions and thinks her a wimp before leaving.
Years later, Modesty and Giles Pennyfeather are holidaying in Tangier when she gets a call to dine with Sheik Abu-Tahir. Pennyfeather has a shift at the local children’s hospital so Willie joins Modesty instead. They hear the local police is after an assassin in the area but think nothing more of it until Modesty gets a phone call and Honeygun calling in her debt for a rescue. Modesty does the rescue, clears the debt and urges Honeygun to retire. This isn’t heeded and a few days later, as assassination is committed by Honeygun and her team and one is injured. Unwittingly, they kidnap Pennyfeather from the hospital and the duo have to rescue him, knowing that he won’t want to leave his ‘patient’. From here, you’ll have to read on.
One of Peter O’Donnell’s greatest strengths is writing oddball characters and Giles Pennyfeather is definitely one of them. Modesty likes him for his eccentricities, making the relationship all the more endearing.
The same can also be said for the fourth story, ‘Durango’, where Stephen and Dinah Collier turn up. They are doing some divining work for John Dall in the Guatemalan jungle from a helicopter. Unfortunately, the chopper gets a bullet hole in the rear and comes down and the Colliers are held for ransom and the pilot killed to show Durango means business to John Dall. Knowing the ramifications for all people if he pays the ransom for all tourists, however he is willing to stall for time as Modesty and Willie go into the jungle, posing as bird-hunting naturalists so they can be captured themselves. Unfortunately, Durango turns out to be someone they know, a renegade Mexican called Lazaya, and takes more caution holding them prisoner, using the Colliers to keep them in check, and demands more money from Dall. When Modesty saves one of the injured men, his girl-friend sees Modesty as a savour instead and rethinks their alliance with Durango. From here, you’re on your own.
These second two stories are amongst O’Donnell’s best and Romero’s clean style art makes them stand out. This is hardly surprising as Modesty and Willie are at their best when their friends are in danger. If you’ve missed picking up these books until now, then these will certainly want you to investigate them further. For the rest of us, you’re seeing what we’ve known all along. Don’t miss out. We’ll be having a wake when the series ends.
(pub: Titan Books. 136 page paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $25.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78329-858-7)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com