This is a recreational reread for me. I love the pulp novels of Peter O’Donnell and his exciting secret agent, Modesty Blaise, and reread the 13 novels every couple years. Modesty, in this novel, works with her equally competent partner, Willie Garvin, to combat a worldwide organization attempting to take over the world.
In the other books, her beginnings as the head of a European crime syndicate is mentioned, but in this story, we watch her early retirement as she and Willie have decided crime has paid enough. Her syndicate didn’t deal with drugs or girls, but they were the top when it came to smuggling, thievery, and information exchange. Unfortunately, they made a few enemies, and one of them pops up in this story to try and kill them.
Big mistake. The bad guys are always unique and colorful in Modesty novels, and the group here, the Watchmen, are a group of Russian mercenaries who attempt to kill the heads of state at a western peace conference. When Modesty stops them from blowing up the Golden Gate bridge at rush hour, she is visiting a doctor friend (and lover) in San Francisco. The Watchmen, after failing to kill her, do kill her friend (and lover), an undercover CIA agent working inside the Watchmen.
As with most of Modesty’s cases, a friend is in trouble and needs their help against some nefarious villain. She and Willie have used their combat skills to defeat such bad guys as deadly nannies, Siamese twin assassins, psychics who think they’re angels trapped on Earth, and slavers who kidnap wealthy industrialists. Most of these cases are mentioned in Morningstar (a weapon described as a fixed mace) and Modesty has a habit of keeping friends they’ve rescued close at hand and several of them make their appearances here.
Modesty is not perfect. She makes mistakes. She’s shot, knifed, and beaten by Watchmen. She and Willie are captured during a recon mission. Only her quick wits and muscle control enable her to survive and take down the Watchmen before they attempt to kill the heads of state.
These books follow a similar plotline. There’s always an adversary as good as she and Willie are with a desire to be the one known to kill Modesty Blaise. There’s a huge bad guy, melodramatic and stereotypical, and the climax usually involves Modesty in some hand-to-hand combat with the head bad guy or his highly trained and deadly representative.
In this book, we not only get some backstory on their dealings with the Network, Modesty’s crime syndicate, but also some great solo scenes for Willie. He’s a knife thrower and Olympic athlete fighter, but he usually works alongside Modesty and does later on. But first, he has to protect another old friend, Sir Tarrant, head of British MI6, from two assassins, the Polish twins, who have never failed in an assignment.
It’s good to visit Modesty again. Peter O’Donnell (1920-2010) was an interesting man. His writing is exciting, but I’ve always noticed he stops and describes what Modesty is wearing. For example, her gaberdine blouse in teal matching her tweed skirt. He even describes the jewelry she’s wearing. I wondered if, like the Lensmen books and some Arthur C. Clark books, a female ghost writer provided the fashion tips, but Mr. O’Donnell also wrote romance novels as Madeleine Brent. I haven’t read any of them, but I might just to see if they are as exciting as Modesty.
The bad thing is now I’ll have to reread them all. So, be prepared for some pulp reviews this year.