Out of all the Modesty Blaise books, I, Lucifer is my least favorite, and I can’t pin down exactly why. It might be my Victorian prudishness dealing with the adventure having three of her lovers in one story. She’s always been nonchalant about her partners, leaving them friends when she departs, but two of the three aren’t quite so easy-going as she is, and she has to remind them of who owns her body and who decides what she does with it.
We have the standard creepy villain (a weird puppeteer and his wife), a friend in distress (a parapsychologist and Modesty’s current boyfriend), and an exciting climax for her and her partner, Willie Garvin, atop a burning building. Many of the Modesty novels refer to some parapsychology element, but this one jumps in full-blown. A young man, Lucifer, thinks he is Satan and has the real ability to predict who is going to die and when.
The creepy puppeteer uses Lucifer’s ability to extort money from rich and influential people (who aren’t going to die). He sends them a list of people who are going to die soon and says you are on this list unless you pay us. The racket is a good one, and many governments and companies are willing to pay through a mysterious ocean drop. Modesty is taken captive, along with the parapsychologist, and they have cyanide tablets embedded in their backs with remote control detonators held by the puppeteer. Their job is to make Lucifer more accurate in his predictions.
Willie, half a world away, figures out how the ocean drop works and talks one of Modesty’s former boyfriends into paying the ransom so he can follow the trail to Modesty. Captured by the puppeteer in the Philippines where they are hiding, Willie apparently fights Modesty in a duel to the death while she tries to save her boyfriend and Lucifer. She and Willie, with the boyfriend and Lucifer, are stuck on the top of a burning building surrounded by hostiles.
In the heat of battle (ha), the bad guys start killing each other, and Modesty and Willie rescue the hostages. Exciting, but I worried about her when all three of her boyfriends were involved. I like it better when she and Willie are on their own fighting some dastardly villain. I noticed that whoever they’re involved with becomes the target of an evildoer.
Yes, I’m blaming my dislike on too many boyfriends, but it was still a nail-biting ride (as usual), and I loved the puppeteer’s equally evil wife (she creates explicitly erotic puppets) getting fatally dragged around the bay by dolphins after she murders their keeper.