RARA-AVIS: Modesty Blaise

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 31 May 2004

I just read MODESTY BLAISE, the 1965 spy thriller by Peter O'Donnell featuring ultrasexy international supercriminal Modesty Blaise, who's brought out of retirement at 26 and recruited by the British government to make sure a diamond shipment goes through. She and her sidekick, who can shoot and fight as well as Modesty, plus design gizmos as well as James Bond's Q, take on a pancontinental megavillain.

I thought Modesty Blaise had been mentioned many times on the list, but it turns out it's only three or four. Some rare birds regard her as one of the top female hardboiled characters, and I'd agree somewhat. She's certainly tough, and she can kick ass up and down the Mediterranean. She can be cold and hard like James Bond (the one in the books), but that's expected of everyone in this kind of spy thriller. Against her we must hold the way she breaks down and cries at the end of the book, as she does after all her most dangerous escapades. She doesn't have the hard inner heart that asks for nothing from nobody.

There's a nice bit of conversation about her professionalism:

| "You're an amateur" [Modesty says]. "I'm a professional. You're
| smart, fast, good with a gun, good with your hands. It's not enough.
| You rely on your gifts, and it's not enough." There was no cruelty
| in her eyes, but neither was there any mercy.
| "Go on," Hagan said.
| "I wasn't good with a gun, like you. I spent two hours a day for two
| years, making myself good. It might not seem worth it. How often do
| you really need to use a gun--I mean to shoot with it? Once in three,
| four, five years? All right, I spent fifteen hundred hours making
| myself ready for that one time. Because I'm a professional, Paul. I've
| spent thousands of hours making myself ready in all kinds of different
| ways for those few times when being ready means living instead of dying.
| Thousands of hours. Because I'm a professional. I'm not proud of being
| professional, or ashamed of it. But that's what I am."


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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