action/adventure


A reprint of the first three Modesty Blaise comic strips.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1963-1964
Titan publication year: 2004

I’ve been reading Modesty Blaise since I was a teenager but I’ve never read the strips in publication order, just in the haphazard way I go them in Finnish editions. Here, most were published in the Agentti X9 comic book which had one MB comic and three others, usually Rip Kirby, Corrigan, and other secret agents. Eventually, Modesty got her own albums but even in them, the stories weren’t in chronological order. I also don’t have all of them, but I have some albums and a stack of Agentti X9 comics. Also, I still have a couple of full adventures which I cut out from Finnish newspapers.

The Titan album has the first three strips: “La Machine,” “The Long Lever”, and “Gabriel Set-Up”. It also seems to have the short “In the Beginning” strip which tells Modesty’s tragic backstory as an orphan refugee struggling to survive to adulthood and then her rise to leading the criminal organization the Network and then retiring.

Even the first comic has all the ingredients that I love: a terrible enemy who seems almost impossible to defeat, clever schemes from Modesty and Willie, and really high stakes. What is missing is the occasional whimsical humor which made some of the later comics really memorable for me. But from the start, Modesty’s moral code is clear: she hates it when people are used, she especially hates drugs and prostitution and even took down those criminal organizations when she was a crime boss. She’s fiercely loyal to her people and defends them with her life, if needs be. Willie’s her right hand man.

MB is a newspaper comic strip, which makes the form very restricted. It’s black and white, in three panels. O’Donnell, who created Modesty and wrote all her stories, was already an experienced strip writer when he came up with Modesty and it shows. The panels are clear (at least when the printing is of good quality) and no panel is wasted.

“La Machine” is an introduction to Modesty and her world. Sir Gerald Tarrant, who is the head of British intelligence, comes to Modesty asking for a favor: to take down a French-based ruthless and efficient murder ring called la Machine. Tarrant has information that he could’ve used to blackmail Modesty but instead he destroyed the evidence. Modesty always pays her debts. So, she and Willie cook up a scheme to put Willie as a target for la Machine. They stage a public fight and Modesty puts a murder contract out on Willie.

This was a very good beginning. It showcases all the things Modesty and Willie are known for: they’re extraordinary loyalty to and faith in each other, their cool heads when in danger, and their fighting skills, especially with martial arts and Willie’s extraordinary skill with knives.

In the “Long Lever” Tarrant has a job for Willie but Willie won’t take it unless Modesty agrees. When she finds out what it’s about, she wants in. Dr. Kossuth is a former Hungarian citizen who was put in a horrible refugee camp. He managed to escape and flee to US. Now, he’s been kidnapped presumably to take him back to Hungary. The CIA has a lead: he might be on a yacht owned by a millionaire who needs money. Modesty and Willie are pretending to be a shipwrecked couple and search the ship. If they find Kossuth, they’ll try to free him.

“The Gabriel Set-up” introduces a bit more eccentric villain although not as over the top as some of the later ones: Gabriel whom even his own men fear. Gabriel has been working of a long time and has a large organization. This time, his minions have set up a health spa. However, Gabriel’s doctors use hypnosis to uncover secrets from their customers which include British government officials and very rich individuals. Even Tarrant is hesitant to engage Gabriel but Modesty goes to the spa to investigate. It’s near US border in Canada. Gabriel’s scheme isn’t easy to find out and he’s a formidable enemy.

Meanwhile, Willie has been working as a lumber jack nearby and is dating the daughter of the timber lord. Marjorie is an explosive blonde who has grown quite of Willie. When Modesty appears, Marjorie is jealous but Modesty quickly explains to her that Modesty isn’t a competitor and that Willie’s not the sort to stay with one girl. This is the first comic where we see that both Modesty and Willie have other partners and aren’t going to stay with just one person. Neither of them makes any secret of it to anyone they’re dating.

Several of the strips use characters who have ESP-type powers. Here the enemy uses hypnosis and only when the victim has been put into a receptive state.

These were all enjoyable reads even if none of them are my very favorites. They’re full of action, very James Bond type adventure except that I like Modesty and Willie (and many of the side characters) far more.

An action/adventure novella set in Toronto in 1920s. The first in a series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 98

Colleen Garman is an clock maker and she also makes other mechanical gadgets. That’s pretty unusual for a young woman in 1920s and her boyfriend isn’t shy about expressing his distaste for her work. However, when Colleen gets a telegram which says that her uncle Roderick has died, she drops everything and hurries to Toronto where he lived and died. There she meets Roderick’s friend Jane who tells her that apparently uncle Roderick had lost his mind before he died. However, Colleen notices strange men who follow her and want to hurt her.

This story has some steampunk elements but is light on Lovecraftian horror. This was a definite plus for me because I’m not a horror reader. Instead, the story’s almost constant action adventure with chases, fights, and shootings. Colleen isn’t a trained fighter and must hold her own in a very surprising and demanding situations. She does it admiringly. Also, she faces a couple of hard choices.

I liked the characters but they weren’t really developed. In fact, we don’t really get to know much about them, just hints of what’s to come. Colleen is a pretty straight forward heroine, an ordinary person called to do extraordinary things. I was intrigued by the idea of Bureau of Investigations reporting directly to US president. They’re a secret organization investigating the cults who are trying to resurrect the elder gods. A great twist on the origins of FBI. However, it wasn’t explored further in this novella.<br

It’s not a deep. But it’s a lot of fun and very entertaining. Currently free on Amazon.

A short story collection of various genres. Like, the name says, almost all of them are fast-paced and exciting.

Publication year: 2018
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 295

This is another Fiction River collection which as stories from multiple genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to modern military action/adventure. It also has a story with a penguin main character and one story has a cooking contest.

“Payback is a Bitch” by Diana Deverell: Bella is in charge of providing private security for US government people in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She’s on a supposedly routine drive, when her team of bodyguards turn against her.

“Death-Blind” by Robert Jeschonek: The main character of this story wakes up in a maze, his own voice blaring at him, urging him to kill someone before the time runs out.

“The Airship Adventures of Captain Jane Fury” by Anthea Sharp: The captain of the HMS Minotaur, an airship, is on an urgent mission which could very well change the future of Britain, if she arrives on time. A storm, a band of pirates, and even a bigger menace try to stop her.

“Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” by Henry Martin: A group of SEALs has been ordered to take back a cruiser which has been high jacked by pirates. Things go wrong from the start.
“The Tomb of Arisel” by Bonnie Elizabeth: The main character needs desperately an item from the catacombs below the temple of the Goddess of Love, Arisel. But she has fearsome guardians.

“Goodnight, Madison” by Lisa Silverthorne: Five days ago, Sam’s little daughter disappeared. He’s a police detective but he can’t find the person responsible. Until other kids start to disappear and Sam gets a letter.

“Romancing the Puffin” by Louisa Swann: Magnus and his moody but brilliant girlfriend are in the Antarctic, studying penguins. Now, she’s transformed him into a penguin and he must try to survive to find out if she can forgive him and turn him back.

“Dominant Species” by Dayle A. Dermatis: The main character of this story is a shapeshifter. She also works tirelessly to expose animal abuse. This time, she heard that people on a remote farm abuse dogs. Unfortunately, the situation is far worse and turns out very badly for her.

“Three Seconds” by T. Thorn Coyle: Zachary used to be a troubleshooter and a killer but he gave it up when he met the right man. But Zachary’s past has come to haunt him.

“Blood Chase” by Leah Cutter: Parayat is a loyal servant of the emperor and was born a star sister, able to create illusions. Now, the emperor has tasked her to slip inside the house of a traitor and kill him.

“Caterpillar Boot Man” by Valerie Brook: Cuba has been beaten bloody and now an armed man is chasing him in a car. Can Cuba get away?

“The Case of the Dead Son” by Laura Ware: This is a noir urban fantasy story. Eli Leafrunner is a police detective and a half-elf. He works in the Neighborhood, the dark underbelly of the Islands of Fantasy where most magical people live (and run it for humans to visit). Sorin is an influential elf. When his son’s death was declared a suicide, Sorin put a death curse of Eli. Eli has just hours to find out what really happened to Sorin’s son.

“Breakfast at Luigi’s” by Thea Hutcheson: Deirdre is a smart and beautiful young woman. She’s found a “sugar daddy” in a retired mob accountant, Luigi. When two hitmen invade the house, Deirdre is terrified but determined to get out alive.

“Black Phantom, Gray Op” by Stefon Mears: Aren Vestergaard has just quit from the Navy. He bought a ship and has set up a charter piloting business. On his first day, two people hold him on gunpoint and force him to take to a planet deep outside of human space.

“The Last Ramekin” by Liz Pierce: Molly is a kitchen witch and all the other cooking wizards and sorceresses look down on her. She’s made it to the final round in the contest and is determined to give it her all.

“The Princess, the Huntsman and the Monster” by Erik Lynd: Emily has just escaped from a man she thinks of as the Monster. She’s naked and alone is the snow.

I enjoyed almost all of the stories. The last one is the slowest but it’s pretty good. “Romancing the Puffin” and “The Last Ramekin” were my favorites.

The first in a spy/adventure series.

Publication year: 1966
Format: Print
Page count: 238
Publisher: Corgi books

Mrs. Emily Pollifax is a sixty-year old widow with two grown children. She’s been a very proper wife and mother her whole life but now she’s grown weary of her boring life. After confessing to her doctor that she almost walked of the roof of a house, he recommends that she do something which she’s always wanted. She’s always wanted to be a spy. So, she travels to Langley, Virginia, and calmly tells the young man on duty that she wants to become a spy. The man is about to send her on her way when something unexpected happens.

Carstairs is one of the big shots in the CIA and he needs someone to play tourist in Mexico City. The job shouldn’t be dangerous; it’s just picking up a microfilm from a bookstore. But the person playing the tourist must be perfect. Accidentally, Carstairs meets Mrs. Pollifax, thinking that she’s an actual agent and realizes that she’s the perfect tourist. He gives her the job. She’s a bit disappointed at how easy it is, but accepts.

The next week, Mrs. Pollifax flies to Mexico City (for the first time in her life) and plays a tourist. She’s there for three weeks and at the end of it, she’s picks up the book, with the microfilm which she doesn’t know about. However, she goes to the store a week early and likes the owner a lot. On the appointed time, she visits the store again only to be met by a different man who offers her tea. She just starts to suspect that something’s wrong when she falls down, drugged. Mrs. Pollifax and another spy have been kidnapped and they’re taken to another country.

This is a rather an exciting and charming book. Pollifax is clearly out of her depth but does her best to adapt and do what must be done. She’s also a decent and kind person, someone rather, well, unexpected as a spy. I also loved that she’s old and so very far way from the stunningly beautiful, seductive female spy role, which seem the only one that women spies get to have today.

This is set during the height of Cold War with lots of spies on both sides. For most of the book, Mrs. P and the another spy are prisoners, which I didn’t expect. The writing style has a lot of humor.

Talk of communism as the enemy and of of Red China is quite dated, now, and also it doesn’t have any advanced gadgets. Both fit the book’s atmosphere very well.

The first book in the Eric Steele action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours 19 minutes
Narrator: R. C. Bray

Eric Steele is a former Special Forces soldier who has served US in many countries and wars. Now, he’s an Alpha – a soldier with a special mandate answerable only the US president. He usually works only with his handler, Demo. But when a nuclear missile is stolen from a military convoy, he must team up with Meg Harden, a former Army soldier and current CIA operative. Unknown to Steele, matters are very complicated at Washington: president Cole has terminal cancer and CIA’s director Robin Styles is ruthless in pursuing more power.

The book has five main POV characters: Steele, Meg, vice president Rockford who is a former soldier, Nate West who has stolen the missile, and CIA director Styles. A couple of minor characters also get a POV chapter. The first chapter is written from a minor character’s POV.

Steele is a loner, a patriot, and extremely capable. His enemies also know that he’s one of the best and try to eliminate him. Meg is also a loner but more because the men around her push her away. She’s very beautiful, very good with computers, and a fighter. She’s also attracted to Steele from the first. Rockford is very loyal to the president and is doing his best conceal Cole’s illness.

Nate West is a former Special Forces solider who has grown bitter because the government couldn’t prevent his family’s deaths. He enjoys torturing and killing people. He’s Steele’s former mentor and when Steele finds that out, he wants to take out West any way he can. Styles is also a very nasty enemy. She’s the first female CIA director so she’s under a lot of pressure. She knows how to manipulate people and is very ambitious. She even chose her girlfriend because she can manipulate her easily.

For the most part, this was a very fast-paced read with lots of action. The fight scenes are detailed and we got a lot of information about the various guns. The enemies are vicious and there are a couple of detailed torture scenes, as well.

I enjoyed most of the book but the torture scenes were a bit much for me. The narrator fit the book very well and did a great job.

The fifth book, and the second in the second trilogy, in the Roma Nova alternative reality action/thriller series.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Pulcheria Press

The book is set at the beginning of 1980s. Roma Nova was founded by refugees from Roman Empire and has thrived during the centuries. However, it’s not a democracy. Power is in the hands of the heads of the twelve families, all women, and the imperatrix who is always a woman.

Aurelia Mitela is in her forties and at the height of her career. She’s the foreign minister and the head of the twelve families who together advice the imperatrix. 13 years ago, she set Caius Tellus to prison in Germany after he assaulted her and killed people. However, now he’s served his sentence and is back. Aurelia tries to fight it, but to her horror, outdated laws let Caius walk. He manages to influence the head of the Tella family and eventually even the impratrix herself to worm his way to the highest levels of government.

At the same time, some people are rioting. Aurelia suspects that Caius is behind it but can’t find any proof. When her 19-year-old daughter is attacked, she takes her and flees to her farm but even that place has been attacked. When riots continue, led by Roman Nationalist movement which calls for return to the “natural” male leadership, the Roman Novan government itself is in danger.

For some readers, the beginning is slower because it’s focused on Aurelia’s personal life, her alienation from her daughter, and fears of Caius. Of course, if you’ve read the previous book (which I recommend) you know just how dangerous Caius is so it’s great foreshadowing. But when the action starts, it’s relentless. It also felt like the darkest book in the series so far.

This was a great book in the series. The characters are great and it’s so rare but wonderful to see a woman over 40 as the main character of an action book. Aurelia is a former special forces Major so she’s more than capable of fighting with both hand-to-hand and weapons.

Aurelia a passionate character; she cares deeply for the people in her life and also for Roma Nova itself. The current ruler Severina is a weak person and therefore a bad ruler but Aurelia tries her best to guide her, even when Severina doesn’t want that guidance. Severina is more than a plausible character and so is Aurelia’s daughter who is becoming increasingly uncomfortable of her mother’s protection.

While the main plot of overthrowing the matriarchal leaders of the nation is very similar to the plot in the second book of the series, Perfiditas, the execution was completely different. The revolutionaries take advantage of the people’s prejudices and ignorance in addition to lazy or corrupt government officials, set in their ways. It’s all frighteningly realistic.

The book ends in a cliffhanger so I’m going to get the next book soon.

A collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories.

Publication year: 1972
Format: Print
Page count: 214
Publisher: Souvenir Press

I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories; O’Donnell is in excellent form here. If you’ve read any previous Modesty books or comics, you pretty much know what to expect. Like almost all of the MB stories, they’re stand-alone and don’t require any previous knowledge about the characters. The stories are set in 1960s. Both Modesty and Willie are very competent fighters with various weapons and in hand-to-hand combat. They’re best friends for life and can always depend on each other. But they’re not lovers; in fact they often have other lovers.

In “A Better Day to Die”, Modesty and Willie are going to see a dying man who used to be part of Modesty’s criminal organization. However, their car breaks down. Willie stays in a small village to repair it together with the local men, but Modesty chooses to ride in an old bus. The bus is full of young women whom a priest it taking to city to work there. But the priest, Jimson, has heard of Modesty and her skills in violence. Jimson is a fervent believer in pacifism to the point that he think it’s better to die than to defend oneself. He lectures Modesty about the evils of every kind of violence. When a group of guerrillas stop the bus and take the passengers, Modesty is practically unarmed and must adapt to the situation.

“The Giggle-Wrecker” is set mostly in East Germany during the Cold War. Tarrant asks Modesty and Willie to smuggle out a defector – who is Japanese and therefore very easy to spot. The duo must think their way very carefully. Also, they get to do some of my favorite stuff: disguises.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet” is remarkable because it’s the only MB story told in first person, Willie’s. He’s on a date with his sometime girlfriend Lady Janet when a killer tries to kidnap him. Willie manages to turn the tables and finds out that an old enemy has returned. He already has Modesty but wants Willie, so that he can see her die brutally. This time it’s up to Willie to save her.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck” features two recurring characters from the book “I, Lucifer”: Steven Collier who is a paranormal investigator and his wife Dinah. Dinah is blind but she’s loyal, tough, and has even has a supernatural power or two. Modesty, Willie, Steven, and Dinah are vacationing when they hear about a series of robberies. During a party, they’re also robbed.

In “Salamander Four”, Modesty’s long time millionaire boyfriend John Dall wants a wooden statue of Modesty. To do that, he hires an eccentric Hungarian artist who is living in Northern Finland. When Modesty is modeling for the artist, Alex, a wounded and half-frozen man staggers in. Modesty helps him but Alex, who has suffered in war, doesn’t want to get involved. However, the wounded man turns out to be an industrial spy who has info with him. A very dangerous organization called the Salamander Four are after him. Modesty decides to help him over the border to Russia.

The final story, “The Soo Girl Charity”, is the shortest. It begins very lightheartedly but turns out to be the most disturbing of them. Modesty has been coerced into selling flags for a charity. One man turns out to be too grabby and he seems to be a really nasty man in other ways, so Willie and Modesty decide to break into his house and steal some money to give to the charity. They find out a lot more than they expected.

While these all feel pretty straightforward adventure stories, they all have some sort of twist. They were written in the 1960s, so they show the attitudes of that time, casual racism and sexism. O’Donnell tries to do better but his attitudes are dated. For example, in the first story several men rape a teenaged, sheltered girl who seems to get over it quickly. Of course, she’s a side character and this is an action story, but the attitude is still too casual. Of course, neither Modesty nor O’Donnell condone it.

Two of the stories have disabled female characters who are shown in very positive light. Both are very good in their own jobs, bright, loyal, and have partners who clearly appreciate them. Dinah was born blind and Janet lost one of her legs in a car accident. Both are recurring characters in the comics.

Overall, I really enjoyed these despite the attitudes of the times. I love Modesty and Willie and their adventure and their great camaraderie. They have good villains and a great cast of supporting characters. I was thrilled to see one of the stories set in my native Finland, although we didn’t get to see Finnish people much. I also enjoyed the humor in the stories.

Next Page »