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The Modesty Blaise Novels: A Bibliography

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

Eat your heart out, 007


There is one woman who can show James Bond a thing or two. She used to be the head of a criminal organisation called the Network in Tangier and had a successful run of high end crimes across the Globe. Her team were skilled, efficient and ruthless but always had morals. They did not deal in drugs, vice or any human trafficking.

She disbanded the team at the height of their success and ensured each member was provided for. She moved to UK and settled in a nice pad in London and was happy to go about her business, only to be recruited by British intelligence to covertly help them in capers where they can't 'officially' get involved. She is smart, sexy, sassy and seriously skilled at all forms of combat.

Her name is Modesty Blaise.

Her employees call her Mam'selle. Her closest confidante Willie calls her Princess. We shall call her Modesty. Modesty Blaise.

Peter O'Donnell

Peter O'Donnell

From Comic Strip to Novels


Modesty Blaise is a popular creation of British Writer Peter O’Donnell. She first debuted in comic strip format in 1963 with art by Jim Holdaway. It was a runaway success, and got syndicated worldwide. There was a film planned and O’Donnell was asked to pen the screenplay which he promptly did. After all, scripting comic strips is not dissimilar to doing a story board and therefore writing a screenplay.

The publishers thought it would be a good idea to novelise the screenplay, so Peter did some rewriting, borrowed some elements from the strips and the first Modesty Blaise novel was born. The book was released in 1965, a year ahead of the film. It was an instant hit.

The final film, however, bore little resemblance to O’Donnell’s script and disappointed many ( although it has the dubious reputation of being a camp classic). Peter said that there was only one line of dialogue that was retained in the final version. One can’t imagine why the film makers needed to change anything for the first Modesty Blaise book is an excellent concoction of thrills and is a brilliant page turner.

The Name's Blaise, Modesty Blaise

The Name's Blaise, Modesty Blaise

The Novels of Modesty Blaise

The novels of Modesty Blaise are a rare blend of action and thrills with very well constructed plots. The main characters of Modesty and her right hand man Willie Garvin are brilliantly rendered, and the pair’s unique relationship and banter is a delight to read. In the true spirit of James Bond, they feature globe trotting adventures, edge of the seat action, stunning combat sequences, twists and turns that will keep any adventure fan sated. What adds to the formula is O’Donnell’s great writing peppered with his unique sense of humour and the ability to create weird and wonderful villains and henchmen.

In the subsequent years Peter would deliver 11 novels and two collections of short stories that the public would devour with enthusiasm and garnered plenty of accolades. He also continued penning the comic strips right until 2001 and these are available as collected strips. They were slick well crafted thrillers, spanning the globe, featuring exciting set-pieces, full of verve and humour. The novels enjoyed reprints all over the world and were translated into many languages.

Most of the first British Editions were by Souvenir Press and the American editions were published by Mysterious Press in the US. The paperbacks have been variously published by Pan, Fawcett, Fontana, and Souvenir Press.

All the books remain highly collectable and some of the first editions are changing hands for hundreds of pounds.

A Bibliography

TitleYear

1. Modesty Blaise

1965

2. Sabre Tooth

1966

3. I, Lucifer

1967

4. A Taste For Death

1969

5. The Impossible Virgin

1971

6. Pieces of Modesty (short stories)

1972

7. The Silver Mistress

1973

8. Last Day in Limbo

1976

9. Dragon's Claw

1978

10. The Xanadu Talisman

1981

11. The Night of the Morningstar

1982

12. Dead Man's Handle

1985

13. Cobra Trap ( short stories)

1996

Most of the first British Editions were by Souvenir Press and the American editions were published by Mysterious Press in the US. The paperbacks have been variously published by Pan, Fawcett, Fontana, and Souvenir Press.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills
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Modesty Blaise

The Special Intelligence section of the British government headed by Sir Gerald Tarrant know all about Modesty’s past. They also know that her second n command during the network days and confidante, Willie Garvin, is languishing in prison ( he has a habit of doing this). Sir Tarrant has information that will help Modesty find Willie. But he also has another delicate matter of a shipment of diamonds that could really do with the talented pairing of Willie and Garvin to scope the scenario and protect the shipment. They know all about how one could plan the heist, as they have done a few of these themselves, in the past of course.

Little do they know their adventure will cross paths with the diabolical Gabriel who is hell bent on snatching the diamonds and wouldn’t mind killing for them. An action packed adventure that takes you to France, Egypt and finally to a small Meditteranean island hideout where Modesty and Willie have to fight for the lives and save the diamonds if they can. A stunning debut.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

Sabre Tooth


Long before the real invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, the perceptive Peter O’Donnell has a deadly military dictator Karz, amassing weaponry and an army of mercenaries in a Hindu Kush mountain lair to execute his ultimate plan - the invasion of oil rich Kuwait. The coincidence doesn’t stop there as his planned attack date is September 11th! This book was published in 1966.

Karz needs two capable lieutenants to command his mercenary army, someone who is capable of handling a motley crew and making a success of it. The only two people he could recall from the past, capable of such feat, are Modesty and Willie Garvin. Meanwhile in London, Sir Gerald Tarrant of the Special Intelligence notices a large number of known mercenaries quietly disappearing across the Globe without a trace. He asks Modesty and Willie to investigate.

Unbeknownst to each party they are both tracking each other. Karz kidnaps a little girl known to Modesty and threatens to kill her if Willie and her don’t report to duty to the Hindu Kush. In a deadly game of cat and mouse, the pair has to rescue the girl, stop the invasion and escape with their lives intact. Pulse pounding entertainment.

Long before the real invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, the perceptive Peter O’Donnell has a deadly military dictator Karz, amassing weaponry and an army of mercenaries in a Hindu Kush mountain lair to execute his ultimate plan - the invasion of oil rich Kuwait. The coincidence doesn’t stop there as his planned attack date is September 11th! This book was published in 1966.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

I, Lucifer


All over the world , important people of receiving death threats from some people who claim they could accurately predict their deaths. When the threatened don’t pay up, they do end up dead. Strangely all these deaths appear due to natural causes.

The Head of the French Intelligence, René Vaubois, wants Modesty to investigate and in his own inimitable French fashion wines and dines her to persuade her to take the job.

Soon Willie and Modesty encounter the strange case of Lucifer who could predict death, Steve Collier who is a professional para-psychologist and the villainous Seth and Regina who have master-minded the devilishly cunning plan. In a race against time, with a bunch of ruthless henchmen on their tail, the pair's adventure culminates in a remote island near Indonesia .

With a cyanide pellet surgically implanted under her skin, Modesty has to work with Willie to destroy the evildoers before time runs out, once and for all.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

A Taste for Death


Beautiful, blind Dinah Pilgrim is a psychic. She can tell you how to find lost items and makes a living doing this for small change along with her sister Judy. Her abilities don’t give her the the deadly premonition of what is about to happen. Attacked on a lonely beach, Judy is brutally murdered and Dinah is about to get kidnapped. Willie Garvin happens upon the scene and manages to rescue her, killing the kidnappers and her sister’s murderers in a deadly fight.

Willie knows others aren't far behind and someone wants Dinah and her abilities desperate enough to kill for it. Willie goes into hiding with Dinah and knows of only one person who he can trust and will be able to help rescue them. Modesty Blaise.

The pair re-encounter the villain of their first novel, Gabriel, again and this time he wants to find a treasure of amazing value. With set pieces in a Panama jungle, London and in an abandoned fort where Modesty has to fence for her life and Willie has to encounter a man mountain, this book delivers in spades.

The Impossible Virgin

The Impossible Virgin

The Impossible Virgin


Giles Pennyfeather works in a field hospital in remote Africa and is tending to a mysterious Russian in his deathbed. It is obvious that the patient has been tortured to reveal some information and Gile is soon party to information about untold riches. The man who tortured the Russian is Brunel , a vicious killer crime lord with equally vicious henchmen.

Giles comes across Modesty and the pair soon evade danger upon danger as Brunel pursues Pennyfeather for vital information. Willie gets in on the act as Modesty and Giles get captured and slowly brainwashed. In a series of brilliant plot twists and breathtaking set pieces Modesty and Willie have to outwit yet another nasty criminal while keeping their senses intact. The unique fight scenes that pepper each novel are taken to a new level with an encounter with a mountain gorilla and a fight scene involving quarterstaff.

The unique fight scenes that pepper each novel are taken to a new level with an encounter with a mountain gorilla and a fight scene involving quarterstaff.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

Pieces of Modesty



A collection of highly entertaining short stories including the first and only one told in first person by Willie Garvin ( I had a date with..)

1. A Better Day to Die"

2. "The Giggle-Wrecker"

3. "I Had a Date with Lady Janet"

4. "A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck"

5. "Salamander Four"

6. "The Soo Girl Charity

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

In a delightful twist to the norm, we get to see the action through Sir Gerald’s eyes, as he witnesses Modesty and Willie in their ruthless best, efficient, cold yet strangely humane when it comes to protecting innocents

The Silver Mistress


In the remote foothills of the Pyrenees in the South of France, Sir Gerald Tarrant , head of the Special Intelligence force, is held captive by a homicidal maniac, Mr Sexton. The latter has plans to torture Sir Gerald and extract vital information regarding intelligence operatives all over the world.

No one knows that Sir Gerald has been taken captive as they all believe he had perished in a car accident. Modesty and Willie stumble upon information on their good friend and they set out to rescue him from the French chateau full of the Mr Sexton’s henchmen.

In a delightful twist to the norm, we get to see the action through Sir Gerald’s eyes, as he witnesses Modesty and Willie in their ruthless best, efficient, cold yet strangely humane when it comes to protecting innocents. There are plot twists a plenty, combat scenes to make your eyes water and delicious banter between the protagonists. High class entertainment.

Last Day in Limbo

Last Day in Limbo

Last Day in Limbo



In a remote jungle camp in Guatemala, a crazy bunch of villains are running a unique slave camp. All the occupants are rich westerners who have been kidnapped and put to work until death. Paxero, the evil maniac, has worse plans for Camp Limbo as he affectionately calls it. While looking into the case of Maude Tiller, who works for Sir Tarrant, and her treatment in the hands of Paxero in an unrelated matter, Modesty and Willie stumble upon evidence that one of their rich friends( who allegedly had died in a yachting accident) may still be alive.

Modesty lets herself be captured to enter Limbo and soon in up to her neck in murderous mayhem. As desperate Willie hacks through the surrounding jungle in a bid to rescue Modesty, she will have to lead the rich, despairing, clueless slaves in a revolt against the guards, as Paxero has ordered them all to be killed. Edge of seat action with great panache.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

Dragon's Claw


A famous artist is found drifting in the Tasman sea by Modesty while sailing single handedly from Australia to New Zealand. Trouble is he was last known to be sailing the Meditteranean and disappeared two months ago. Soon they realise he is not the only artist to have disappeared.

A murder soon sets Modesty and Willie on trail of a deadly gang of criminals who inhabit the Dragon Claw island and who have plans for more disappearing artists. Modesty encounters the psychotic gun toting vicar Uriah Crisp and also the deadly Beauregard Browne in their ninth adventure

The Xanadu Talisman

The Xanadu Talisman

Modesty thought she had seen and fought it all, but soon she is facing Collissuem style duels and a daredevil escape through mountain roads while pursued by helicopters. Stirring action.

The Xanadu Talisman


Modesty disbanded her criminal organisation in Tangier many years ago and others have tried to replicate her success. The latest one of these surfacing teams is El Mico and they pull of their greatest heist to steal an object of great importance only to have it stolen by their second in command.

But Nanny Prendergast, the head of the organisation and the Silk siblings don’t take no prisoners. They kill the said double crosser and kidnap his wife to lock her up in Xanadu, a strange place in Atlas mountains. Soon Modesty and Willie join in on the cat and mouse games, attempting to rescue the poor wife after tracking down the ‘object’.

Modesty thought she had seen and fought it all, but soon she is facing Collissuem style duels and a daredevil escape through mountain roads while pursued by helicopters. Stirring action.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

The Night of the Morningstar

A hapless but talented rookie wants to join the Network in its heyday and he is not accepted. He nurtures the grudge for several years and wants to prove his mettle by taking revenge on the first and second in command of the Network, Modesty and Willie.

Starting with a deliciously nostalgic flashback that gives us more insight into the Network days, this thrilling caper twists and turns around the criminal organisation called the ‘Watchmen’ who are hell-bent on a series of nasty terrorist attacks at embassies, landmarks and assassination attempts at key political figures.

Their next target is the Golden Gate Bridge. Modesty and Willie not only have to stop their evil pans but have to contend with the personal vendetta from the mysterious ‘morningstar’. A must for Modesty fans.

Dead Man's Handle

Dead Man's Handle

Dead Man's Handle


In this eleventh and final novel, Willie is kidnapped and brainwashed by the dastardly Thaddeus Pilgrim and is imprisoned in the remote Greek island of Kalivari in the ‘Hostel of Righteousness’.

Modesty is meant to pick up his trail and follows him there only to confront her second in command and lifelong friend programmed to kill her the instant he sets his eyes on her. The duo have to endure mind altering drugs, the crazed assassins Sibyl and Khazim and fight to save their lives and sanity. They then have to vanquish the criminal psychotic Dr Thaddeus Pilgrim.

It has the solid formula of plot twists, crazed villains daredevil escapes and thrilling fight sequences.

the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

In a crazy set up O’Donnell has Willie and Modesty killed in this story. After much furore he finished his final comic strip in 2001 in a much upbeat note, with the duo alive and well, and planning to return for more adventures.

Cobra Trap


This very final book about Modesty and Willie written by Peter O’Donnel l Features five short stories including the one any self respecting Modesty fan refuses to read, the Cobra Trap. It has Modesty through the ages starting at 20 and culminating at 52. In a crazy set up O’Donnell has Willie and Modesty killed in this story. After much furore he finished his final comic strip in 2001 in a much upbeat note, with the duo alive and well, and planning to return for more adventures.

Bellman,

The Dark Angels,

Old Alex,

The Girl With the Black Balloon

Cobra Trap.

Monica Vitti

Monica Vitti

Vincent Vega reading MB

Vincent Vega reading MB

Movie Adaptations

The 1966 movie featured Monica Vitti as the eponymous heroine and Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin. The plot skewed so much from Peter O'Donnell's screenplay that it was unrecognisable much to the disgust of the fans of the strip. It fared less well and was received as a cult camp classic. Sadly not in the true spirit of Modesty, failing to deliver the thrills but instead concentrating on a flurry of sexy pastel production design and high fashion!

There was a TV pilot made for ABC in 1982 featuring Ann Turkel as Blaise. Although this version was more true to the tone of the books it failed to become a series.

In 2004 Miramax, who still hold the rights to the character, made a film ‘ My name is Modesty’ featuring Alexandra Staden as young Modesty. This went straight to DVD and was felt by many as an attempt to regain the rights rather than a serious try to launch the character.

Quentin Tarantino who had convinced Miramax to buy the rights to the character was very interested in making a Modesty Blaise film and lent his name above the marquee to this version but hasn’t yet capitalised on the opportunity.He did have Vincent Vega, the John Travolta character in pulp fiction reading Modesty Blaise in three different scenes, hinting at a possible future film that has never materialised.

One just hopes that the property gets into some safe pair of hands and a film materialises. Modesty Blaise stories have so much material to mine, one can make a truly satisfying series of films that can deliver.


the-modesty-blaise-novels-unmissable-thrills

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Mohan Kumar

Comments

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on August 24, 2016:

Modesty Blaise (the Princess) and Mr Garvin (Willie Love) were no strangers to a fight with the odds pitted against them. They knew in advance what they were up against, did their prior planning and cooly wandered into the danger zone. Usually they were up against an egotistical mastermind but the henchmen turn out a bunch of rabble. Too easy !

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on August 23, 2016:

When i first read a Modesty Blaise novel her first fight was against five ruthless gangsters in a fictional dictatorship. Not only did she 'floor' each of them in synchronised timing relying on her karate skills but she then tied each one of them using their own belts and bootlaces leaving them in sprawling heap dazed bruised.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on March 31, 2016:

No female aquaintance has ever raised the Modesty Blaise character in conversation leading me to think that M.B. is not so much of a woman's icon albeit a great inspiration for young women to be totally independant with self confidence and ambition.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on December 03, 2015:

I wonder whatever happened to the little street urchin Peter O' Donnell based the M.B character on. I'll wager that she 'made it ' in life.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on April 17, 2015:

In retrospect i think it would be time for a Modesty Blaise movie, but who would get to be cast as her. She would have to have 'drop dead' gorgeous looks and a skilled karate exponent as well. Then on the other hand movies are not the same any more. Perhaps Bollywood could attempt a M.B. production where there is a whole bevy of glamorous Hindi actresses.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on March 17, 2015:

Just trying to visualise Modesty Blaise now as a matron in her mid seventies. Of course she never married and remains childless (a pity!). Well into her menopausal years but still retains her faithful servitor Weng. M.B. maintains a strict fitness routine and fully active in Women's causes. Miss Blaise or should i say the 'Princess' finally made a gentleman out of her 'Willie Love' so it is time for Mister Garvin to have his own valet or gentleman's gentleman as with the quintessential English butler 'Jeeves' or Lady Penelope's chauffeur or the indispensible Desmond the 'live in' butler of debonair detective Rip Kirby.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on March 14, 2015:

One of the aspects of the Modesty Blaise comic strip which doesn't show us in the M.B. anthologies and movies is her tendancy to appear scantily clad more often than decently garbed. Miss Blaise is too frequently seen showering although not totally obscene little is left to the imagination. When abroad on a caper Modesty adopts local costume for example when in Arabia she may be wearing a belly dance costume whilst in China it's the sheath like 'cheong sam' of shimmering silk which is slited on either side from the waist down to reveal her slender legs. The bustline modified to accentuate her ample bosom.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on September 27, 2014:

Only by reading the Modesty Blaise anthologies is it possible to get into the woman's psyche. The M.B. movies didn't quite work and the promising T.V. series floundered. The M.B. comic strips whilst entertaining gave only snippets of her. There was some dark side to her nature in that not only could she defeat an opponent effortlessly but she also wanted to humiliate her vanquished foe as well.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on August 23, 2014:

Modesty Blaise wasn't 'killed off' after all. Her untimely death was really a ruse to catch her adversaries off guard. She is back on the prowl and could be anywhere amongst us!

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on July 30, 2014:

Probably not a good idea for a new Modesty Blaise movie as it has been done before. Since we have a complete Modesty Blaise anthology which is enough to keep us entertained indefinately.

Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on April 15, 2014:

Whilst the Modesty Blaise character and plot line made a refreshing diversion from mainstream at the time Modesty was not a 'James Bond'

type as She hadn't had any training in espionage or even a security clearance however having said that She was an ideal protaganist in situations where males were either Her trusted follower or deadly enemy. To be a friend of Modesty Blaise it was on Her terms

brianjanuary on April 27, 2013:

"Pieces of Modesty" is one of my favorites! Great books!

phalla on January 24, 2012:

It is the first time that I read it but i think i absolutely love it.

Farmer Ted from US on May 28, 2011:

Great to see there are still Modesty fans out there.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 12, 2011:

@arthurchappell, the strips are great and I really do love the novel as it allows Peter O'Donnell's writing to shine. They are funnier, well plotted and more layered - especially the first 6 books. Thanks for dropping by.

@Diana King, nice to find a fellow fan. The film was extremely dumb and made a mockery of Modesty. hopefully QT or someone would give her the due respect..! Thanks.

Diana King on January 12, 2011:

I'm a huge Modesty Blaise fan, been reading the books since I was a teen and and you're right about Cobra Trap.

Missed the second movie, the Monica Vitti one was hilarious, but really dumb and did nothing to add to the franchise. If Tarantino does a MB movie, I am so there. Maybe it will make up for his last one.

arthurchappell from Manchester, England on January 12, 2011:

I've read some of the comic strip collections which are great - the two films are both dreadful - must look out for the novels though - cheers.

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