action heroine

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 51, 52, and 53.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1982-1983
Titan publication year: 2010

“The Balloonatic” starts as a more whimsical story than the average MB story. Modesty is in Venice. Guido Bigalzoni is an Italian reporter and an acquaintance of Modesty’s. However, she’s not eager to see him. But when Guido says that he needs Modesty’s help on a balloon ride, she can’t resist because she’s never been in a balloon before. However, the balloon ride isn’t comfortable for her because while Guido has a drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend but he still tries to hit on her constantly. Of course we all know that Modesty could maim the thin Italian with one arm tied behind her back so it’s played for laughs.

Willie and Guido’s girlfriend Aniela follow the balloon in car. When the balloon floats above a castle, Modesty and Guido see a murder. People who are wearing upper class renaissance costumes are just watching while one of them uses a floret to kill a man in a duel. They notice the balloon and shoot it down. The castle is surrounded by an electrified fence so the blood-thirsty men capture Modesty and Guido.

The rest of the adventure is in more typical MB style, however even the final battle has some whimsical elements. Apparently, Guido has appeared in some previous adventure but I haven’t read them. He’s very focused on sniffing out news and even in a battle he’s thinking about how to best write it.

“Death in Slow Motion” is a far more gruesome story. It starts with Inspector Brooke from Scotland Yard and his 19-year-old daughter. They’re prisoners in Sahara, underneath a small canvas. A woman who blames Brooke for her husband’s death has kidnapped them and will leave them to die slowly with just a pint of water daily for them both. She leaves them under the small canvas but a camera films them. She tells them that she has framed their deaths so nobody is even looking for them. But Brooke is convinced that Modesty will save them.

Meanwhile, Modesty hears that Brooke and his daughter have died while sailing. However, she had a lunch date with Brooke during that time and so she’s suspicious. But she thinks that someone has killed them both, not that they’re still alive.

The story has several short scenes of Brooke and his daughter slowly dying in the desert so the story is very intense from the start.

“The Alternative Man” is set in a tropical island. Modesty has a new boyfriend, Matt, who is a former DEA agent and now a freelance pilot. Modesty hears a plane landing in the dark and Matt tells her that it’s most likely smuggling drugs. She doesn’t want to get involved. Instead, Matt comes up with the idea that they should go to a deserted island and playact a shipwrecked couple. Modesty agrees a bit reluctantly because she knows that surviving will be hard work. Her suspicions are right: Matt doesn’t know anything about surviving. She must do all the work and he resents it.

Meanwhile, sir Tarrant has been invited to the larger island to help DEA track down a local drug lord who call himself Charon. Willie knows the DEA agent in question and tags along.

This is a pretty standard MB adventure except Modesty’s boyfriend is far more unlikable than usual.

These were fun stories. The second one is especially intense and one of the best Modesty adventures. However, the contrast between the first and the second story is big.

A stand-alone epic fantasy book.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 21 hours 44 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

This fantasy book has a lush, rich history and deep characters. The writing style is also lush and beautiful, much like in Carey’s Kushiel books. However, it doesn’t have any sex scenes, unlike the Kushiel books.

This is a world without stars: only one sun and three moons are on the sky. However, once the world had stars who were also gods. But the gods grew rebellious against the four original gods and were cast out. Now they live among humans and on occasion walk among humans. The world has also several cultures, some of them sea-fearing, other living in desert.

As long as he can remember, Khai has known his duty and his destiny. He was born at the same moment as the youngest member of the house of the Endless, Princess Zariya, and so he’ll train to become her bodyguard, her Shadow. He is reared among the Brotherhood of Pahrkun (the god of the Scouring Wind) who are warrior monks. When he, and the Princess, will turn sixteen he will journey to Zarkhum’s capital and start his duty. He will also then meet the Princess for the first time.

Khai trains hard. At the age of seven, when the book starts, he’s already an accomplished warrior. The book has several parts but it’s clearly divided to three: one follows Khai until he’s sixteen and meets the Princess. In the capital, he will live with her in the women’s quarters among scheming and gossiping which are alien to him. The final third of the book is a more traditional epic fantasy.

Khai never wavers in his duty; never questions it. However, there is a twist which I didn’t know about and won’t spoil here. It’s a good one, though. Zariya is quite a different character than I expected but I really enjoyed reading about her, too.

The biggest drawback, I think, is that all three parts of the book have a different cast of supporting characters. I also felt that each of the casts was larger than the one before it. It was a bit harder to follow who is each character as the story when along. The first part has the all male Brotherhood. I was surprised how different they were from each other. While some of the monks come to the monastery of their own will, or presumably like Khai sent there at an early age, they also have another tradition: any man convicted of a crime so hideous he would be executed, can instead choose to take the Trial of Pahrkun. He fights three of the Brotherhood’s members in the Hall of Proving. If he survives them, his sins are forgotten and he joins the Brotherhood. Three of the monks are quite memorable.

The second part is set in the city with both male and female members of the royal court. Because Zariya and Khai live in the women’s quarters, many of the cast here are women. In the third part they travel away from the city and gather a ragtag gang of accidental heroes around them. However, each of the casts stand surprising well, a testament to Carey’s skills with characters.

Yet, I didn’t feel as connected with the third or second group as I did with the first group of characters. It’s been too many years since I read Kushiel to really compare Carey’s writing style here but it felt similar with the lushness and some repetitions. The book does have quite a lot of tropes: Khai is literally the Chosen One, better at what he does than adults, he has a clear destiny, and we get a Prophecy, too, which they follow in the last third of the book. Still, Carey used them well and they were fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were great and I adored Khai and Zariya and their developing relationship. The world was also vivid.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 48, 49, and 50.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1981-1982
Titan publication year: 2009

This is a fun collection of stories.

“The Scarlet Maiden” is the most lighthearted MB story I’ve ever read. It starts with a glimpse to a pirate ship in 1730. It’s the Scarlet Maiden and it sank supposedly with a big treasure. In the current day comic, lots of people have tried to locate the wreck. Modesty is vacationing in the Caribbeans and hears the story. She’s also diving and has found another, smaller wreck. However, local criminals think that she’s trying to muscle in on their business and attack her. In the middle of the attack, Willie arrives. Modesty takes care of the two goons. Afterward, Modesty takes Willie diving to see the wreck.

Meanwhile, three young people are watching anxiously. They have found the Scarlet Maiden and they think that Modesty has also found it. They’re desperate to get the treasure first, so they hatch up a silly scheme: they kidnap Modesty and Willie to make sure that Willie and Modesty don’t get the treasure and the trio also gets two experienced divers more. Modesty realizes instantly that the trio aren’t hardened criminals, because they try very hard to act like they are. But she goes along with it. She and Willie have a lot of fun pretending to be scared by the trio. Later, some real tough criminals get involved.

Modesty and Willie have so much fun pretending to be scared that I greatly enjoyed this story. The story has also a comical side character, an elderly gentleman who is a decendent of the Scarlet Maiden’s pirate captain.

“The Moon Man” has a few wacky moments, too, especially near the end and right at the start, with a film crew. In this story, Modesty has a new boyfriend Alex Varna who is a painter. He’s from Hungary but five years earlier he defected to the West with his young daughter. But he’s still a sleeper agent. Now, the Hungarians have arranged for sir Tarrant to give a list of his agents in Balkan to Modesty and they activate Varna. Varna must steal the list. However, he refuses and the enemies kidnap his young daughter.

The most unusual element in this story is the Moon Man. He’s an enemy agent in Britain and pretends to be an UFO expert who regularity talks with space aliens. The side characters have nice symmetry: the Moon Man is a British citizen who betrays his country by working with Eastern agents. On the other hand, Varna was born in Hungary but has grown to love Britain so much he refuses to betray it.

“A Few Flowers for the Colonel” is a quite poignant MB story. An old friend contact Modesty for help and of course she and Willie hurry to Venezuela. On their way to the airport, they tell the story to sir Tarrant. Five years ago, when Modesty was still running the criminal Network, she was attacked by another criminal. A local taxi driver, who was in his fifties, gave Modesty enough time to defeat the attackers. So now, Modesty has a debt to pay.

In Venezuela, the elderly former taxi driver, now a farmer, asks Modesty to rescue his daughter Luisa. Luisa is a nun and runs an orphanage for girls in a small country beside Venezuela. But civil war has broken out and a bandit chief El Toro is taking advantage of the situation, terrorizing the countryside. Modesty and Willie will, of course, try to get the girl to safety. Luisa’s younger brother Anselmo goes with the as a guide.

I think this was the first MB story I ever read years ago. I remembered it still pretty well and enjoyed rereading it. It’s got all the good MB story elements: high stakes, tight places, and dastardly villains. The bandits are bloodthirsty and eager to get Modesty to their hands. Anselmo is a teenaged boy who has lived his whole life in a very macho culture and he’s very reluctant to obey Modesty. He even questions why Willie should take orders from her. He’s hotheaded and seems more eager to avenge his sister than save her. The story has also a retired Army officer who is also quite chauvinist.

I enjoyed these stories a lot and had a blast reading them.

This is the last full Modesty Blaise novel.

Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1998
Format: print
Page count: 329
Finnish publisher: Otava
Finnish translator: Jukka Kemppinen

Many MB books, and comic strips of course, are stand-alone stories. However, this one has lots of recurring characters who make reference to previous events. It’s perfectly readable without reading the others, but you get more out of it if you read the other first, especially Last Day in Limbo.

The story starts with the first time Modesty and Willie meet! We’ve been told about it but never really shown. It managed to be both what we were told but at the same time also surprising.

This time Modesty and Willie, and their friends, are pitted against the Hostel of Righteousness on a small island of Kalivari in the Aegean sea. They pretend to be a holy order that focuses on praying but in reality they’re headed by Thaddeus Pilgrim. He used to be a missionary until his family was killed horribly. Now he’s a Satanist who runs a group of assassins.

They try to kill one of Willie’s girls merely as a precaution but instead Willie kills one of them. Pilgrim thinks that this is just an interesting opportunity and decides that his group will kidnap Willie if they get a chance. Weeks later, the assassins manage to kill the girl and when Willie comes over to meet her, they kidnap him. Modesty, of course, does everything she can to find him. However, Pilgrim has ordered that Willie must be brainwashed to kill Modesty.

This is an interesting parallel to one of the comics, “The Puppet Master”, where Modesty is kidnapped and brainwashed to kill Willie. But in the comics, the main bad guy had very personal reasons to hate Modesty and want to destroy her. This time, Pilgrim just thinks that it would be an interesting program. However, he’s ruthless and calculating.

The story becomes very intense when Molly is killed and Willie is kidnapped. Before that point, it has rather comedic and even heart-warming moments. Modesty is spending time with her friends Steve Collier and his blind wife Dinah. Steve is a very eccentric character but I mostly like him. Dinah is a sweet and endearing character. Modesty’s lover in this book is Danny Chavasse, an old Network man whom Modesty and Willie rescued from Limbo. At one point, Modesty and Willie perform in the circus Willie partly owns. I enjoy the circus scenes and this was no exception.

Pilgrim isn’t one of O’Donnell’s best villains but he’s pretty strange. His mind has partly shut down and he can’t enjoy anything. In fact, he seems like he can barely focus on anything. He has an oddly rambling speech patter. Yet, the people around him either fear him or worship him, or both. He has a group of international murderers around him.

This was another great Modesty adventure with plenty of intense fights.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 45, 46, and 47.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1980-1981
Titan publication year: 2009

The first story, “Dossier on Pluto”, is set in the Caribbeans. Modesty is meeting with her old friend Steve Taylor who is a former CIA agent. But now that he’s left the agency, he’s become a dolphin trainer. He has five dolphins who are all named after Greek gods, Pluto is one of them. However, shady people are also interested in how much they can make money with the dolphins. They decide to break to Taylor’s place and take his info. Meanwhile, Willie is vacationing with a new girl and Sir Gerard Tarrant. They’re fishing at sea, not too far from the Caribbeans.

This one has pretty straightforward plot, except for the dolphins. Modesty really cares for them and doing any violence on them angers her. Still the story has some comedic elements, as usual. Interestingly enough, the Finnish translation calls the dolphins with the human pronoun rather than “it”.

“The Lady Killers” starts as a lighthearted romp but an unexpected twist turns it darker. Modesty and Willie are vacationing in Tangiers, where she ran her criminal Network. In fact, the story starts with a brief glimpse of Modesty ten years previously when she was a nightclub owner and ran the Network. A Danish ship captain saved her life and they’ve been friends ever since. Now, the sea captain’s girlfriend, who runs a nightclub of her own, is in trouble. A hardened criminal Da Silva wrings protection money of her and she can barely pay him any longer. Modesty finds Da Silva distasteful and agrees to simply kidnap him and send him a way for six months; during that time his organization should collapse. The scheme works, but then Modesty and Willie find out that Da Silva had been mixed up with something which could cost an innocent life. And they feel obliged to help.

This was a good, fun adventure. Although, it has some sexism. When Willie is pitted against female terrorists, he finds it hard to hurt them. And the women terrorists are more a joke than a serious threat. For some reason Colvin draws them quite a lot less attractive than Modesty or Maude in the next strip.

I liked the last story best. “Garvin’s Travels” starts with Willie and Maude Tiller starting a vacation in a luxurious big house which is owned by one of Modesty’s millionaire friends. However, they can’t even get to bed before men attack them. Whey they fend off the attack, they’re still kidnapped.
Meanwhile, CIA has contacted Tarrant who needs to pull Maude back to duty. But Modesty is determined to let the two lovebirds have nice time and she takes the mission herself. She goes undercover to a “health university” for wealthy people.”

This was a more lighthearted adventure than the previous one. Maude is a one of the spies in British Intelligence and I quite like her. She has appeared in previous stories. She’s a capable agent, loyal, and eager to learn. She’s not as good a fighter as Willie or Modesty but she’s learning. This story has quite a few comedic elements and there aren’t any civilians in danger.

This are Neville Colvin’s first MB strips. Some readers don’t think that he as good an artist as Romero or Holdaway but I think he’s good enough.

I didn’t remember that the last two stories have a couple of scenes with bare-breasted women. While the women are drawn in very sexy positions and often with cleavages, I’m a bit surprised that the sensors at the time allowed these scenes. Both scenes are relevant to the plot although of course O’Donnell could’ve written them differently.

Otherwise, these are pretty good MB adventures. I quite enjoyed this collection, too.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 22, 23, and 24.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1971-1972
Titan publication year: 2006

“The Stone Age Caper” is set in Australia. Modesty is vacationing with her new boyfriend David Collins when her old acquaintance Wu Smith comes by to warn Modesty not to buy anything for a while. Smith and his buddy are doing a heist and don’t want her involved. Meanwhile, Willie riding a camel in a desert. He comes across a wounded, pretty girl who says some people are after her. He takes her to an abandoned village to nurse her back to consciousness. He and Modesty communicate through radio and she decides to fly to him on a small plane. Wu Smith’s associates want her dead.

This story shows its age in dialog when Modesty and Willie are talking about the aboriginal Australians. They’re called “Abo” which would be quite offensive these days. On the other hand, one of the aboriginals in this strip was in Modesty’s criminal Network and clearly Modesty and Willie respect him and his skills. And there’s also a mention that the aboriginals don’t want to mess with the white men no matter what the white men do, because aboriginals know they will be blamed, no matter what. The aboriginals are clearly heroic in the story.

“The Puppet Master” is one of the most intense MB comics. The story starts with a chess game that the bad guys are playing. An elderly doctor Baum analyses the others’ moves. Next, Modesty is driving near Naples when she sees that a car has hit a donkey. She comes out of the car and the men attack her. She fights but one of them manages to inject her with a tranquilizer. She tries to fight but the drug overwhelms her.

Meanwhile, Willie is training Tarrant’s agents, especially a pretty new agent Maude. Tarrant comes in and tells Willie that Modesty’s car has been found; she’s been killed in the crash. They travel to Italy. Her body hasn’t been found abd Willie refuses to believe she’s dead. He remains in Italy to look for her. Tarrant thinks that Modesty’s is dead but he orders Maude to remain with Willie, to comfort and help him but also to learn from him.

The bad guys have, indeed, kidnapped Modesty and they’re brainwashing her to kill Willie.

One of my favorite tropes is the amnesia story line and I love this one. The bad guys try to convince Modesty that they’re her friends and she’s part of their criminal gang. Willie has sworn to kill her. Meanwhile, Willie and Maude are going through the Italian underworld. Maude is a smart and capable agent, but just learning the job. She appears in a couple of later strips, too.

“With Love From Rufus” is a more comedic story. Someone breaks into Modesty’s penthouse. He breaks to her safe which has been modified by Willie, so it’s not easy. However, in the morning she notices the break in and realizes that nothing has been taken and a bouquet of roses has been left in the safe with a note that they’re from Rufus.

Modesty is astonished and charmed. She meets with Scotland Yard’s inspector Brooke. He talks about a new genius jewel thief in London and introduces his young nephew Rufus to Modesty. Rufus is a huge fan of both Modesty and Willie. He gushes over her criminal exploits. When they go to Modesty’s car, three men attack them but Modesty fights them off. In her apartment, Willie has come to a surprise visit and is shocked to learn that the youngster has broken into the safe.

Modesty and Willie try to warn Rufus away from a life of crime, but Rufus is proud of his skills as a burglar and wants Modesty to fence the jewels he’s taken. Modesty is in a terrible position as Brooke’s friend. But when Rufus is kidnapped, the game turns deadly.

Rufus is around twenty but Modesty feels that she’s much older than him. His admiration feels uncomfortable to her but Willie (and the readers) think it’s funny.

All three are very good stories and I enjoyed them a lot.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 19, 20, and 21.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1970-1971
Titan publication year: 2005

This collection starts Romero’s long run as MB artist. All three stories are fun and wacky.

“Willie the Djinn” is set in a small country in the Middle East. The story starts in a casino where sheikh Kadhim Al-Mashaf has played a lot of backgammon against Modesty and he’s lost a lot. He wants to continue playing against her and even Willie can’t hide Modesty from him. Meanwhile, Willie has found a group of dancing girls whose manager has ditched them. When the sheikh offers a job to the girls, they only agree if Willie will come with them as a chaperon. Willie’s of course shocked and Modesty comes along, as well, to make sure Willie behaves.

However, when they’re in the sheikh’s plane, one of the girls finds a bomb which takes down the plane. A coup is in progress and Modesty and the girls land right in the middle of it.

This story has even more sexy girls and male gaze than is usual for Romero’s MB. It’s also got a lot of funny moments right from the start when Modesty is trying to hide from the sheikh’s servant and later when Willie convinces a little girl that he’s a djinn… sadly, without magic.

“The Green Eyed Monster” is set in a small country in South America. Modesty has a new boyfriend, zoologist Gil de Serra. Gil’s very jealous ex-girlfriend comes to chew out Modesty but Modesty tosses her to a pool. However, when the jealous ex, who is the daughter of the local British ambassador, is kidnapped Modesty, Willie, and Gil set out to rescue her from the group of revolutionaries.

This story again shows us that Modesty has compassion even for people who insult her. This story has also several humorous scenes, but they’re set after the half-way point.

While “Death of a Jester” is set in a British castle, O’Donnell manages to bring exoticism to that place, too. One of Tarrant’s British Intelligence operatives was assigned to investigate a group of highly skilled and eccentric former army commandos who are now mercenaries. The operative is killed by a knight on a horse, under the eyes of two very shocked teens. The operative was dressed as a jester.

The mercenaries enjoy dressing up as medieval knights and hunting people in the castle’s park. Modesty and Willie infiltrate them, assuming the roles of bored wealthy people.

The medieval shenanigans are just hilarious.

I throughly enjoyed this collection, as well.

A stand-alone historical fantasy book set in 12th century Egypt.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 260
Publisher: Bantam

This is a book for horse lovers. It’s a fairy tale expanded to a fantasy.

Hasan is the pampered only son of a rich emir and a thoroughly self-centered, gambling, drunken womanizer. He also lives in Egypt in a time when all decent women live in harems. When he finally gambles away his father’s prized mares, his father has had enough and just tells Hasan that he’s going to be sent for a Beduin who will make a man out of Hasan. Hasan escapes. But instead of doing anything useful, he spends the night drinking, womanizing, and spending the last of his money. After he’s robbed and beaten, he staggers to the house of an old man who nurses him back to health. Recovering, Hasan meets the beautiful young woman who has been nursing him and rapes her. She’s the old man’s daughter. The old man turns out to be a magus and he transforms Hasan to a horse, a red stallion. The magus tells Hasan that he will be a slave to a woman and will die in the horse form.

Soon, a girl does buy Hasan the stallion. She’s Zamaniyah who is around 14 but already has a great eye for horses. She’s also the only daughter of Hasan’s father’s mortal enemy. She names Hasan Khamsin and starts to train him together with her father’s horsemaster, a Greek slave.

The POV characters are Hasan/Khamsin, Zamaniyah, and her eunuch slave Jaffar. Because all of Zamaniyah’s brothers have been slain (by Hasan’s father), her father had decided to raise her has a boy and his heir. She’s forbidden to enter harem, where all of her father’s women, including concubines, live and she’s forbidden to wear women’s clothing or makeup or anything that rich women of that time had. Instead, she’s taught to ride, fight, hunt, and care for horses.

The first half of the book is mostly about Zamaniyah training the horse Khamsin. The second half is set during the sultan Salah ad-Din Yusuf’s war campaign and is quite different from the first.

Zamaniyah is a great character. She always obeys her father, even though sometimes she wishes that she could be an ordinary girl. But on the other hand, she enjoys horse and knows that this is the only way she can train and ride them. But when she’s angry, she forgets to be obedient and quiet, so that nobody will notice how strange she is. She takes a liking to Khamsin and uses a gentle “Greek” way to train him as a warhorse. The women scorn her and the men can’t be friends with her, so her only friend is Jaffar, her eunuch slave who is devoted to her. She also befriends one of her father’s concubines who is a captured Frankish woman.

Tarr doesn’t shy away from showing us the Islamic world at the time, which includes (rich) women shut away to harems, slavery, eunuchs, and that woman are chattel to men. Most men don’t accept Zamaniyah but they must respect that it was her father’s choice to raise her as a boy. Also, the book dealt with surprising amount of rape, although not in any titillating way. So, despite Zamaniyah’s age, this is definitely not YA.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zamaniyah and Khamsin was mostly entertaining, too. I mostly enjoyed this story and except for the fantasy bits, I think it’s fairly accurate description of the times.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 16, 17, and 18.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1969-1970
Titan publication year: 2005

This collection ends Holdaway’s MB comics. He died suddenly in the middle of drawing “the War-Lords of Phoenix” and Romero was selected to take over. Romero has a distinctive style and he makes Modesty even sexier than Holdaway.

“The Hell Makers” starts with Willie kidnapped by a shadowy organization. They want to use him to put leverage on Modesty. This is a wonderful tale which (again) showcases the absolute faith that Modesty and Willie have on each other. It also includes one of the more eccentric, and entertaining, side characters ever on this comic.

In “Take Over” Italian mafia tries to take over the British underworld. The strip starts with mafia’s men training a group of British thugs to rob a bank properly. Then inspector Brooke asks Modesty to look into several robberies which have been done very precisely. Modesty declines, stating that she isn’t Batman, on a crusade against crime. But later, when Modesty is in a bank, that bank is robbed by just such a crew. They kill the security guard who Modesty knows. Now, she and Willie make it their business to find out who is behind it and stop them.

The short discussion between Brooke and Modesty makes it very clear who she is. Every adventure affects Modesty personally somehow. Even though MB strips are often marketed as “spy adventure” Modesty doesn’t work for any country. She gets involved when bad things happen to to people she cares about or some people from her past threaten her or people close to her.

“The War-Lords of Phoenix” begins with Willie and Modesty in Japan, working out with a seventy-year old master of all martial arts, Kazumi. They talk about Kazumi’s granddaughter who is about to get married. On their way to the hotel, Willie, Modesty, and Kazumi see a woman get stabbed. She’s Kazumi’s granddaughter and the man who stabbed her is her fiancee! Of course, Modesty and Willie investigate.

This is another great collection with O’Donnell at the top of his craft.

A reprint of the Modesty Blaise comic strips 13, 14B, and 15,

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1968-1969
Titan publication year: 2005

The title story, Bad Suki, unfortunately shows its age: it’s about hippies who use drugs. Modesty, of course, is against all drugs (except tobacco and alcohol which they both use a lot). Willie saves a teenaged girl from diving to her death. She’s dirty and high. He takes her to Modesty’s place. Modesty bathes her and washes her clothing which the girl, Amanda, doesn’t like. However, Modesty knows that she can’t help her or anyone else who doesn’t want help. So, when Amanda briefly lectures to Modesty and Willie about their too safe lives, Modesty doesn’t say anything. Amanda leaves. But Modesty wants to know more about London’s illegal drug trade. So, she and Willie put on hippie clothes and infiltrate the scene.

The Galley Slaves: Modesty and Willie are on a cruise on a ship which is owned by Modesty’s friend. However, the owner’s friends are terrible snobs and they put down Willie at every opportunity. Ten days later, Modesty can’t stand them any longer. She and Willie simply swim away from the ship to a small island near Tahiti. They have minimal supplies but manage just fine. Willie is building a raft when they suddenly see a Roman style trireme sailing to the island.

The Red Gryphon is set in Venice. Modesty has made a new conquest, a young architect Max who is renovating an old estate for a millionaire. Modesty spots a ragged, eleven or twelve year old boy who who is running from the police. She helps him and gives a meal to him and his best friend. Meanwhile, Max starts to behave in a secretive way, saying that he found something he’s sure Modesty will love but he won’t yet talk about. But that morning, he’s found dead. Modesty must get to the bottom of it.

This story is perhaps the most “usual” of Modesty stories. But the inclusion of the two runaways who live on the streets, stealing and scamming, makes this more personal.

All the stories have great character moments. We already know that Modesty hates drugs and in Bad Suki O’Donnell really digs deep to this side of her. Galley Slaves shows the duo’s unique ethics, concerning the people they used to work with. The duo used to be criminals but even then they were only after money and didn’t hurt people unless they had to. They didn’t and still don’t respect violent criminals or people who exploit or abuse others. In the last story, the two street urchins remind Modesty (and us readers) about her childhood. On the other hand, Modesty and Willie are ruthless to their enemies in this collection.

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