More Lives of Modesty Blaise

By Brenda Clough

MBAn exciting new version of Modesty Blaise is running for a short time on the BBC.  They’re presenting seven 15-minute episodes of the classic A Taste For Death, adapted from the original novel by Peter O’Donnell.  Listen to the episodes here.  You’ll have to register for access, and you shouldn’t delay — the shows began airing on Dec. 17 and will be available for only one week.

I’ve discussed the many incarnations of Modesty before.  If you enjoy the radio drama — which hews fairly closely to the novel — do not hesitate to dip into the comic strips, available in 22 bound volumes from Titan Press.  Or seek out the dozen or so novels, readily available on Ebay or Amazon if you can’t fish them up at your local library.  Can we hope that this radio presentation will be the first of more?  The Silver Mistress would be perfect for the radio!

My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Café.

I also have stories in Book View Café’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies, including our latest, Beyond Grimm.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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More Lives of Modesty Blaise — 3 Comments

    • “What is it all about?”

      There’s no short answer to that, but I’ll try. Modesty Blaise was originally conceived as a “female James Bond” character for publication as a daily newspaper adventure strip in the UK, at the height of the spy craze back in 1963. The strip outlived the spy fad, though, and continued to be continuously published until 2000, with all the 100 or so stories in that long run being written by the same author, Peter O’Donnell. O’Donnell also wrote two short story collections and about a dozen novels using the same characters.

      The title character, Modesty, has an extensive backstory. She’s an orphan of war who doesn’t remember her parents or her original name. Somehow she survives. After a childhood spent wandering all over the middle east and Northern Africa, she ends up in Tunisia, where she works for an illegitimate casino, then takes over the business when its owner is killed in a gang war, and by age 18 she’s running one of the largest criminal gangs in Northern Africa. But she’s an ethical criminal, who spends as much time smashing drug and sex traffikers as she does managing her smuggling & gambling operation. Then, in her early 20’s, when she has enough savings set aside, she retires and moves to England with her right-hand man and best friend, Willie Garvin.

      Modesty and Willie’s early adventures (in the comic strip and in the novels) tend to involve them being asked to do missions for British Intelligence; later on, they just stumble into strange and dangerous situations wherever they go.

      Modesty is a free and independent woman with awesome skills who can crack safes and heads with equal facility. Her relationship with Willie, while very strong, is strictly platonic, and she never gets too serious with any of her numerous boyfriends. That right there sums up about 2/3 of why I am so fond of the stories.

      The other third is the tone. If James Bond and the Harry Palmer films are on two opposite ends of the spectrum of espionage thrillers, Modesty Blaise exists halfway between them and off to one side. In Bond, everything is over the top; with Harry Palmer, everything is very mundane and realistic. Modesty mixes the jet set lifestyle and the outlandish villains of Bond with the realistic, thoroughly grounded plotting of the Palmer films. The prototypical Modesty Blaise villain is as memorable and unique as Dr No, but is engaged in a very mundane theft or protection or blackmail racket, which he is implementing using some realistic but extremely unusual and imaginative means (eg, in A Taste for Death, it’s kidnapping a psychic dowser to help him find a long-lost buried Roman treasure).

      Finally, there’s the characterizations of Modesty and Willie. They have a zest for life and a well developed sense of humor which makes reading their adventures just plain fun.

      If you’re into graphic storytelling, the first collection of newspaper strips is “The Gabriel Set up”. If you’re more a novel reader, the first one is simply “Modesty Blaise.” DC comics also adapted the first novel into a graphic novel, likewise called simply “Modesty Blaise.” There have been two movies (very loosely) based on the characters: avoid them both.

  1. I have argued that MB is the opposite of James Bond. Bond is a government employee — he does what M and the other government handlers want. All of Modesty’s capers are generated by personal connections. A friend is in trouble, or a friend of a friend, and it’s Modesty and Willie to the rescue! In other words, she has chick motivations, and Bond does things for guy reasons.