With only one ‘Modesty Blaise’ book this year, it’s made devouring the content a delightful restoration of my own creativity. With an estimated six books to go before all of the ‘Evening Standard’ newspaper strips are finished, to not to keep to their twice a year releases, publisher Titan Books could be seen to be dragging things out. It’s either that or the sales are down which would be a shame but the three stories in this volume, ‘Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress’ has both writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Enric Badia Romero on top form.
The book starts off with ‘The Young Mistress’. Guileless Dr. Giles Pennyfeather is acting as a locum at a surgery while staying with Modesty Blaise and gets an early morning call to go to the aid of Marion Hall who has been, for the want of a better word, thrashed. Modesty comes along as escort and is more than concerned when she realises that Marion is staying above the art gallery of Bruce Lacey, a crooked arts dealer. As the story unfolds, it turns out that Marion is an excellent copiest and Lacey has a grip on her by having evidence of her forgery, keeping her too scared of going to prison than realise he’s also implicated if its revealed to the police. But that’s getting ahead of things. Marion refuses to leave but as she tries to get Modesty and Giles out a back way, they encounter Lacey and his henchman, Hooker, whom Modesty beats with relative ease. Willie Garvin arrives, knowing he’s there to watch than take part. They have no choice now but to extract Marion, knowing that they have now become targets for Lacey’s rage. Whether they like it or not, both Modesty and Willie have to sort this mess out.
Interestingly, O’Donnell short-cuts the problem about finding the forged painting that Lacey sold on and his blood pressure gets ever higher when Modesty and Willie switch paintings. Lacey wants Marion back to forge a Rembrandt, only they learn this too late after thinking they got everyone to safety. Marion, reunited with an old boy-friend, captured, it is up to Modesty and Willie to bring an end to Lacey as only they can. Saying that, there is a surprise cut-off in all of this but how would be telling.
In many respects, ‘The Young Mistress’ is almost like a series of adventures or instances within the main tale but it allows both Modesty and Willie to shine individually and together with a lot of action along the way. It also reflects how such things would happen in real life with pauses between action. It also goes without saying that all the supporting characters get things to do. O’Donnell was never one for giving lip service for anyone to just stand around.
For ‘Ivory Dancer’, Modesty and Willie take young Samantha ‘Sam’ Brown, with them to John Dell’s ranch in Kentucky for a horse holiday. There, Sam meets one of the breeding stud horses called Ivory Dancer and grows quite attached. What no one knows is that Dell’s ranch boss, Mike Duggan, has been threatened or rather his wife has with acid if he doesn’t co-operate and turn off the alarms so Ivory Dancer can be stolen. What follows is a bit of horse rustling with everyone involved.
In many respects this is quite standard fare for O’Donnell and Romero, although it is nicely dressed up by seeing Modesty and Willie showing martial arts skills at a junior club and then at the circus in Kentucky. Even if this looks like padding, it does add some depth to the characters and shows their downtime. Probably the biggest puzzler is how Sam could turn a stallion in a horse box to face the right way one when escaping but I’ve seen that happen in films as well.
The final story for this book is ‘Our Friend Maude’. On her way to a month’s holiday, Maude Tiller, one of Sir Gerald Tarrant’s best agents, is kidnapped and brainwashed in an attempt to murder Rene Vaubois, head of the Deuxième Bureau, the French Intelligence Service. Vaubois is close to ending the career of the arms dealer Kaut and he’s paid a contractor, Zebart, so that Tiller does the assassination and the British Secret Service takes the blame.
A week or so later, Willie Garvin is on a date in Paris and sees Maude, on a test run in public, in a restaurant who totally ignores him but equally doesn’t seem quite there neither. Figuring that she’s undercover, Willie doesn’t get close but later rings Modesty and through her to Tarrant and discover that Maude isn’t working. Modesty joins Willie in Paris and Vaubois gives them one of his best agents, an undercover operative known only as Henri, to assist them. Henri helps them get into Kaut’s estate during a fancy dress party and they what is going on. Maude is resisting the brainwashing to some extent because she isn’t an assassin. It is then that Modesty and Willie get into action and a good finale.
There were a couple things about this story that did make me think. We see invitation only parties all the time but I don’t think I’ve seen any where they count the guests as they leave to ensure no one is left behind, either out cold from too much drink or…shall we say committing covert activity. Maybe this is criminal arrogance or no one figuring that any opponents would stay behind. Then again, it was also helped by the fact that Zebart hadn’t realised his assignment had been blown. Considering he was aware of Modesty and Willie’s reputation for getting involved and increased his fee accordingly made him miss that particular step. A neat story and Romero does some wonderful things with the art.
I do hope Titan Books go back to doing two books a year because dragging it out to one a year is clearly not giving me my bi-annual dose of ‘Modesty Blaise’ and these stories are still great fun.
(pub: Titan Books. 104 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £ 11.99 (UK), $ 19.95 (US), $ 22.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78116-709-0)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com