In almost every Modesty Blaise pulp fiction novel, there’s a simple thriller formula. Usually, a nefarious and colorful megalomaniac is trying to take over the world/kill everyone/overturn countries and needs some hapless schmo to accomplish a key task in their plan. Modesty and her hunky partner, Willie Garvin, encounter the poor victim and save him. Then, they go after the mastermind to ensure their new friend is safe and bring the villain to justice. Modesty generally takes the schmuck to bed during the healing and protection process but leaves them as friends when the bad guy is defeated.
Dragon’s Claw is a reference to the shape of the isolated island a hapless artist escapes from after he’s been brainwashed into forgetting he’s been kidnapped. Near death from exposure on the open sea, he’s saved by Modesty on her way to singlehandedly deliver a sailboat to Australia. The usual friendship/courtship ensues during his recuperation and he paints Modesty’s portrait after they return to England. He can’t recall anything about his captors or where he’s been for months.
The bad guys are always colorful in Modesty books, and this rogues’ gallery is one of the most colorful I’ve encountered. She’s fought conjoined assassins, incestuous nannies, human gorillas, and even a guy who thought he was Satan. But each member of this gang is memorable. Beauregard, a dandy who grows orchids and blackmails Modesty and Willie to steal priceless art or they’ll kill the helpless artist, is the leader although someone called the Patron is really behind the artist’s kidnapping and brainwashing. Voluptuous Clarissa organizes the capers and is a nymphomaniac addicted to Beauregard. There’s also a Chinese doctor who specializes in brainwashing, and an ordained assassin gunslinger. The Patron is unidentified, and more importantly, his motives for kidnapping people of the art world and killing or brainwashing them is unknown.
Modesty usually has a sense of fair play and brings her opponents to justice. It takes a lot to make her vengeful, but the clown posse make the mistake of killing the incredibly talented artist when his memory starts coming back. When she and Willie are kidnapped and taken to Dragon’s Claw, she only wants to know one thing: was this person involved in her friend’s killing? She gives them a cold stare, and you know they are dead men (and women) walking. On the island, they meet the Patron and discover he’s not striving for global domination. He’s been kidnapping members of the art community to tell him what marvelous taste he has.
He’s brought Modesty and Willie to the island to see his collection of the most famous paintings and sculptures before he has the gunslinger kill them. No one in the world is faster. Willie and Modesty aren’t new to being in tight spots and make plans to take down the entire clown squad, the Patron, and the armed guards. At that point, anyone involved in killing the artist should’ve jumped into the sea and taken their chances with the sharks instead of facing Modesty when she’s seeking payback.
This one has a brief climax. After all the skillful planning (and the bad guys helping take each other out), I guess it doesn’t take a lot of pages to execute the coup de grace, but it was exciting and satisfying.
Adventuresome stuff and a nice change to the formula. This time, neither of our heroes was wounded or shot, but their losses are more personal.
Words to live by: “They have an enviable knack of starting to live the rest of their lives from the present moment, whenever that may be.” Sir Tarrant discussing Modesty and Willie