Modesty Blaise: The Killing Distance by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero (graphic novel review).

Another volume of ‘Modesty Blaise’ to set you up for the summer and we’re on a steady countdown to the final stories in a year or so but neither writer Peter O’Donnell nor artist Enric Badia Romero show no sign of losing their pace.


‘Guido The Jinx’ has Modesty and Willie Garvin on a six week walking trek in Samarkand following the Marco Polo trail. Apart from Willie spotting some cavemen in the distance, nothing seems to untoward until they bump into Guido Biganzoli and Aniela on their motorbike, there to report on a film in production about cavemen. He had spotted Willie and with injured stunt people, told the director he could lay a couple on. For those who follow these stories, Guido is a positive jinx to the pair, but they like Aniela and get talked into it.

Dressed in fur rags, they perform the stunt over a waterfall but the safety knot unwinds, Guido having been ‘helpful’ by tying it ‘properly’ and the pair of them juggle their way through an underwater cave system to the other side. Everyone on the set, think they are dead but Guido and Aniela motorbike around to the other side. In the meantime, coincidence isn’t far around the corner and the pair come across the injured Russian Colonel Greb, the only survivor of an assault on his team by Kung-Li and his team. An old Buddhist monastery that was used in Stalin’s time to store nuclear material was to be disposed of and Greb was supposed to be dealing with it. Modesty still sees herself owing Greb a favour for saving Willie and with little resources plan an attack. When Guido and Aniela arrive, there is opportunity for further improvisation and a private war.

Guido and Aniela bring a lot of humour to this story and this is one of those rare times that I wonder if Peter O’Donnell wouldn’t have considered doing a version of this story in novel form. The build-up for half the story points in one direction and I suspect ‘Evening Standard’ readers would have been over-joyed by the switch in events mid-way. For Modesty and Willie, they must have been left scratching their heads as to where can they go for some peace and quiet.

‘The Killing Distance’, story and title of this volume, is a reference to how close you have to be kill someone up close and personal. While attending a village pageant, Modesty and Willie watch as a sniper nearly kills Sir Gerald Tarrant. Willie captures the sniper and although there were cut-offs preventing a direct line, discovers the hit was under the orders of the Red Admiral. This was a codename for an ex-KGB Chief Ivan Brodsky, forced to switch sides by Tarrant and currently known as Charles B. Delaney, resident in a fortress in Zariba. Modesty lets it be known through his lawyer that if there are any more attacks on Tarrant that she will personally kill Brodsky which changes his target and the problem of anyone willing to take them on. After a failed attempt, Brodsky says he will call off any assassination attempts if Modesty can get within killing distance of him. In some respects, that’s easier said than done because Modesty still has to get away afterwards, so then there’s a plan to do just that.

What makes this story so action-packed is the number of different locations used throughout the story. From an English village to France to Zariba, not to mention the various transport, from land-rover to canoe and a variety of aircraft. Romero must have had a field day with everything and makes for an exciting adventure of one-upmanship with a bullet.

With ‘The Aristo’, we see one of the things that Modesty and Willie do on an annual basis, visiting all her Network people who she gave disability pensions. Passing through Hong Kong doesn’t escaped Wu Smith who arranges for a bomb to be put in their leashed aeroplane. However, wanting to make them suffer by having their radio fail en route first, has them ditch in the ocean instead. After five days in a dingy, they are rescued by a cargo ship by Captain Miguel Camacho and his pregnant wife, Joaquina, who will take them on to Singapore. Jo was concerned that it might have been a plot by the pirate The Aristo and the pair of them prepare a plan realising that they attract trouble. It’s helped a bit that Camacho had heard of them through a police acquaintance of theirs. When the pirate boat approaches, Willie secretly swims over and hides in their lifeboat while Modesty convinces The Aristo that she and Tina belong to wealthy families to ensure that they won’t be sold on. Things go to plan for taking over the pirate ship at night until Tina suddenly has labour pains and they have to leave and land on a small island. The furious pirates pursue and Modesty and Willie have to deal with them and a birth which you’ll have to read for yourself.

This story is very much in the vein of O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ novels of getting out of a situation as it presents itself. Undoubtedly, O’Donnell has to plan out these stories but he still adds little flourishes that prevents them look like he’s playing by the numbers. When you consider that O’Donnell was the sole writer of these stories and had lost nothing over the many years he wrote them, you should be able to appreciate his fan base. I liked the little touch reminder here that they are aware of how trouble is attracted to them and plan for it rather than walk naively into danger. That to me is the mark of true professionals. If you want an introduction to ‘Modesty Blaise’, you can start here but you’ll want to pick up the earlier books as well. Fabulous.

GF Willmetts

May 2015

(pub: Titan Books. 104 page graphic novel softback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $22.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78116-712-0)

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This edition has a scene missing in ‘Guido The Jinx’. Titan has told us that they are releasing a new corrected edition. If you have bought it, I suspect in the long term that it will be regarded as a curio.


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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