A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Crider:

PETER O'DONNELL Modesty Blaise

PETER O’DONNELL – Pieces of Modesty. Pan, UK, paperback, 1972. Mysterious Press, US, hc, 1987; Tor, US, pb, 1990.

   Modesty Blaise first appeared as a comic-strip character in 1962, and the first novelization of her exploits was published in 1965. She is often thought of as a female James Bond, but her wildly entertaining adventures certainly entitle her to stand alone as a fascinating fictional character.

    A good way to make Modesty’s acquaintance is to read the stories collected in Pieces of Modesty, each of which reveals something of her background and philosophy.

    At the age of eighteen, Modesty commanded the Network, the most successful crime organization outside the United States. After dismantling the Network, she occasionally found herself working for the intelligence section of the British Foreign Office, as she does in “The Gigglewrecker,” in which a very reluctant defector is transferred from East to West Berlin.

PETER O'DONNELL Modesty Blaise

    A better story is “I Had a Date with Lady Janet,” narrated in the first person by Modesty’s formidable associate Willie Garvin, who comes to Modesty’s rescue when she is held captive by an old enemy ensconced in a Scottish castle.

    “A Better Day to Die” and “Salamander Four” might be read as companion pieces. In the former, Modesty finds herself captured by guerrillas, along with the other passengers on a bus. One of the passengers, a minister who believes strongly in nonviolence, sees the results of brutality and is changed by them.

    In “Salamander Four,” a sculptor given to non-involvement finds himself involved against his will when Modesty helps a wounded man, but the ending is is predictable. “The Soo Girl Charity” features Modesty and Willie in a robbery for charity and has an amusing twist at the end.

PETER O'DONNELL Modesty Blaise

    For colorful writing and nonstop action, the books about Modesty Blaise are hard to beat, especially such titles as Modesty Blaise (1965), Sabre-Tooth (1966), I, Lucifer (1967), and two titles published for the first time in the United States in 1984: The Silver Mistress (1973) and The Xanadu Talisman (1981).

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright � 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

PETER O’DONNELL, R. I. P. (1920-2010). He was in ill health — he had had Parkinson’s disease for several years — so the reporting of Peter O’Donnell’s death on Monday, May 3rd, at the age of 90, was not surprising news, but it was still difficult to accept.

   It is remarkable (or perhaps not) that the opening paragraph of his obituary in The Times begins with a description of Modesty Blaise’s most famous tactic in distracting the enemy, the so-called “Nailer,” described here on one of the earliest posts on this blog, as well as much more (as they say) about both Modesty and her creator.

   And for even more on Peter O’Donnell and his career, including a complete bibliography, check out Steve Holland’s recent post on his Bear Alley blog.