Saturday, April 21, 2012

Peter O'Donnell - Modesty Blaise

There have probably been a hundred James Bond impersonators. Few of them match Ian Fleming's style and writing ability. Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise is, in some ways, a far more interesting character than Fleming's Bond. O'Donnell can certainly write and his stories of the female agent and her sidekick Willie Garvin read well and have a certain humour that is lacking in most fiction like this.

Written in the mid-60s, at first it's hard not to see this book as being influenced in some ways by the growing women's movement. Its strong, central female character is unusal in the secret agent genre. But in reality, the stereotypes here are as terrible as any Bond girl. Modesty Blaise knows how to use a gun and is an expert in unarmed combat, yet at the end of every operation she cries to herself, while her male Garvin gives her a shoulder to rest upon.

The extraordinary detail about guns, knives, explosives and unarmed combat here, practiced by women and men, hides a much more annoying set of cliches. Women are emotional, men are strong. Even when Modesty tells her lover that he must agree to follow her orders when on an operation, he points out that when they're in bed, she is happy to follow his. Here is a female assassin, dressed in tight clothing and shimmering stockings designed to titulate. O'Donnell frankly spends rather a lot of time describing his heroine's underwear.

The actual story is fairly standard fare. A shipment of diamonds is to be robbed by an eccentric arch-criminal. His use of technology and an evil female hench-women is standard Bond, as is the climax which is stuffed full of technological wizardry and just-in-time solutions.

Modesty Blaise is famous for being a long-running cartoon and book series. Perhaps the novels improved over time, but don't fall into the trap of beliving that this is anything other than James Bond in a dress.

1 comment:

John Problem said...

'Shimmering stockings designed to titulate' How do they do that?