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Modesty Blaise: Death In Slow Motion by Peter O'Donnell and Neville Colvin

1/04/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Modesty Blaise: Death In Slow Motion in the USA - or Buy Modesty Blaise: Death In Slow Motion in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 144 page graphic novel. Price: GBP 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-108-3.

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I make a point of savouring a story a day when I have the next volume of ‘Modesty Blaise’ newspaper strip tales to read. With this book, writer Peter O’Donnell has got his artist, Neville Colvin, ability to do light comedy down to perfection with the opening story, ‘The Balloonatic’.

While in Rome and waiting for Willie Garvin to arrive at her flat, Modesty Blaise reluctantly receives a visitor, Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli. We might not have seen him before but they know each other well and Guido is a walking danger zone. Even so, he persuades Modesty that he has a licence for them to go ballooning where they have to travel some distance to land on an ‘X’ mark. With Willie Garvin and Guido’s girl-friend, Aniela, following by car and monitoring by radio, they set off. In the air, it’s obvious that Guidio faked his licence and Modesty following an instruction book takes charge. Flying over the land of Count Orlando Smythe, who runs a society to preserve ancient customs, they see him kill someone in a fencing duel. When they are spotted, they are fired upon with more modern weapons and captured. Modesty is recognised and an evening duel after a feast is arranged.

Willie Garvin meanwhile has sent Aniela, after her first driving lesson, back to Rome to the Italian secret service to get help, gets some equipment from the local village and gets into the grounds. There he cues Modesty that he is around while she determines to put Smythe on the spot, especially as he wants to kill Guido first. An expert swordsman, Smythe doesn’t realise Modesty is sneakier but it still leaves the rest of the assorted terrorists to sort out and Guido’s sprained his foot in the partial escape.

That should whet your appetite to see what happens next. Guido and Aniela are excellent foils (sic) for humour and I was chortling out loud with some of their remarks and idiocy which balanced out the danger that they were really in. Colvin’s art, seventh story in, seems to caught in exactly with what he needs to do here and is the cleanest of his stories so far. Sheer magic.

The title story, ‘Death In Slow Motion’, has Inspector Brook and his daughter, Lynn, seemingly drowned off Cornwall when in fact they’ve been abducted and left in the desert by the widow Cyrenna Aquilina wanting her revenge for her husband dying in prison. She leaves them both in the Sahara with a tarpaulin and a random pint of water a day, watched by a video camera with a daily aircraft flying past to receive its signal.

Modesty doesn’t believe Brookie to have drowned, especially as she was supposed to have had lunch with him the day after that event, but does think someone has killed him and his daughter. She and Willie Garvin discover that Brookie’s sergeant, George Sutton, is undercover in London and disguised they go hunting for him, aware that Cyrenna is going to have him killed, too. No spoiler that they rescue him but are still no wiser as to what is going on because of cut-offs. However, they do piece things together but Willie’s attempts to seduce Cyrenna don’t even get to the first hurdle but does end up ultimately rescuing one of her maids and they put things together. Then,, you’ll have to find out what happens next yourself.

The tension and build-up for this story is intense from the Sahara side and detective work from Modesty and Willie. I think I might have kept the story going a bit longer than the sudden tie-up at the end that might also have had problems with Brookie’s response to her actions. Even so, there is a certain amount of satisfaction with how it ends. Peter O’Donnell really is on top of his game here and so is Neville Colvin.

The third and last story in this volume, ‘The Alternative Man’, is set in the Caribbean with Modesty and Matt Lincoln, a pilot and associate from back in her Network days, who decides to fend for themselves on an island, especially as the former doesn’t want to get involved with stopping drug trafficking as airplanes land near-by. Back in the UK, Sir Gerald Tarrant is heading in the same direction with Willie Garvin tagging along to talk to the local Drug Enforcements Officer, Chuck Lattimer.

Tarrant and Lattimer drop by to talk to Modesty and Lincoln gets rattled and they split up after the first two leave. Modesty was a lot better at survival on the isle than he is and resentment settles in. When a plane lands deeper into the island, Modesty figures it’s a drug plane landing for fuel and on the way to investigate, grabs Lincoln, who unfortunately decides to stop her. Lattimer, meanwhile, has told Willie that Lincoln has mental health problems and has sneaked onto the island just to be safe. When Lincoln steps in and is killed trying to stop the drug-runners killing Modesty, it then becomes a pincher movement to stop them.

I’m really glossing over a lot of the details here, not to mention a major sub-plot. In many respects, this story is more a shake’n’match plot in getting the various elements into the right place but it does demonstrate some of Modesty and Willie’s expertise and in a different environment.

It’s pretty obvious why ‘Modesty Blaise’ is so popular amongst my generation of SF fans even outside of story quality. If you’re new to the characters then this volume isn’t a bad place to dig in and get quietly addicted to. For storytelling ability, it puts most of today’s newspaper strips to shame so have a healthy wallow and a great nostalgic read.

GF Willmetts

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