1/09/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Titan Books. 128 page softcover. Price: £12.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $23.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-8456-673-6.
check out website: www.titanbooks.com
When the latest volume of 'Modesty Blaise' newspaper strip stories came through the door, I thought I would be holding it on ice, so to speak, until I complete the other books I'm reading. Half an hour later, so much for that idea as I had read the title story, 'Sweet Caroline'. If you're a fan of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin then you should know full well that you'll be doing the same. These are additive reading.
This story starts off with Willie Garvin fielding at a village cricket match and the death of Lord Toby Coburn by an exploding cricket ball. He is the first of two victims all carried out by a team of assassins under the name of 'Sweet Caroline'. With no money demands, Modesty and Willie have to grope around looking for who is responsible until Sir Gerald Tarrant brings lady barrister Laura Crofton (an interesting choice of name but the computer game icon wasn't around in 1983) in and they discover that it was a set up to ensure selected people handed over £200,000 than be killed. Unfortunately, Laura Crofton won't allow them to help her because it would condone murder and goes in for police protection instead. Modesty has no choice but to play the live target and Willie has to go missing so she isn't taken out by a sniper bullet.
In many respects, 'Sweet Caroline' is essentially a chase the clue story but it is embellished by seeing a lot of the way Modesty and Willie lead, visits to underground leaders around Britain and er...scaring them a little, as well as their links to Scotland Yard. It is also an affirmation that Modesty is reluctant to kill in cold blood but you'll have to read the story to find out what made that happened.
'Return Of The Mammoth' has Willie Garvin chasing after Chloe, one of the elephants from the circus he half owns after doing some shows on Soviet territory as the Russians keep it to attempt to breed off-spring from a recently defrosted mammoth corpse found in Siberia. Modesty chases after him but is spotted by Zimm, a top assassin who doesn't believe her being on the plane is a coincidence. An unprepared Modesty escapes in some style and she and Willie, who had no luck with the Soviet authorities, decide to get Chloe out themselves. Along the way and unarmed, they end up rescuing Soviet Colonel Greb from a conspiracy as Zimm's target. O'Donnell's genius was in limiting what he gave to Modesty and Willie so they had to be ingenious with their solutions. Artist Neville Colvin achieved the most from this particular and Greb looks suspiciously like a hot flushed Digby from the 'Dan Dare' comicstrip.
'Plato's Republic' brings Salamander Four back and their team leader, Plato, wants Modesty Blaise's Network files as they are a source of useful information. Under threat of killing her ex-Network father, Melinda Krolli entices Modesty to a Mediterranean island which also houses a monastery for monks. Willie Garvin's latest girl-friend turns out to belong to Salamander Four and he has to follow her instructions to getting the microfiles and travel arrangements. Meanwhile, on the island, Modesty finds some support from one of the monks, Brother Nico, who used to a sneak-thief and a plan is made to beat them. In many respects, this is actually a very grim tale but played out by the opposition thinking them both not as good as their reputations. There's also a slice of their time running the Network and how, even in retirement, her people will always support the Mam'selle.
The final story, 'The Sword Of Bruce', has Modesty testing out a new glider in Scotland when it is caught by lightning in a storm. She's rescued by Jennie Dunbar who, together with her husband, is running a failing horse stud. Recovering, Modesty finds the husband too proud to accept financial help, even as an investment, so hangs around for a few days. Unknown to Jennie, a distant relative can inherit a fortune if she does a forty mile hike to celebrate an ancestor's walk carrying a facsimile of Robert the Bruce's sword. As he owes a money to a casino owner, they arrange for Jennie's legs to be broken but don't count on Modesty getting in the way. When the solicitor arrives, Modesty realises what is up and arranges for Willie Garvin to pose as a vicar and judicator escort to Jennie as she does the hike. On a parallel course, Modesty disguises herself as Jennie and walks with her husband, forcing the opposition to divide into two groups, who are coming in by hang-gliders. Although the plot is a standard in coincidences, the way it is carried off with sometimes hilarious results makes for an interesting read, more so when the opposition realises who they are against and out-classed.
Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin are great characters and if you've been picking up the book series as they've been released, will want to add this one to your collection. If you've only just found out about recently after the death of its creator Peter O'Donnell then this is also a great introduction. These are the stories we older SF readers use to unwind from our normal genre and if you read them, you'll be as hooked as us.
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