Sunday, October 1, 2023

Modesty Blaise: The Hell-Makers

The Titan Press volume The Hell-Makers contains three of Peter O’Donnell’s fairly early Modesty Blaise comic-strip adventures. At this stage Jim Holdaway was still doing the artwork.

I’ve written at length on the subject of Modesty Blaise as a character in previous reviews. Suffice to say that I’m a major fan. Modesty Blaise was like a breath of fresh air in the world of British comics when the strip made its debut in 1963. Like its heroine it was exciting and sexy and stylish and totally in tune with the mood of Swinging London.

Modesty Blaise is in the great tradition of criminals turned amateur crime-fighters and she bears at least a passing resemblance to the greatest of all such literary characters, The Saint. As well as fighting crime Modesty dabbles in espionage and counter-espionage on a strictly freelance basis. Modesty is always her own boss.

The three adventures in this volume originally appeared in the London Evening Standard in 1968 and 1969.

The Galley Slaves

In The Galley Slaves Modesty and her crimefighting partner (but not lover) Willie Garvin are guests on a yacht in the South Pacific but they’re bored so they get themselves put ashore on a tiny island. The island is not very far from Tahiti. Willie is sure they can easily build a raft to reach Tahiti.

While taking a break from raft-building they notice something unusual heading for their island. It’s a Roman trireme filled with Roman legionaries. Of course it turns out that somebody is making a movie.

Other things are happening in this South Seas paradise. The Americans have misplaced a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. It’s a drone submarine and they think somebody stole it. Modesty and Willie know who stole it - an old friend of theirs from their criminal days. A man named Lim. And Modesty owes Lim a big favour. Modesty never forgets a debt.

The submarine was not the real prize. What Lim was after was the telemetry system which made the drone submarine operable. And that system is a lot easier to hide than a submarine. It could be hidden anywhere. It may be necessary to negotiate with Lim and the possibility of a double-cross is very real.

There’s a fine action climax on board the trireme. A good story.

The Red Gryphon

In The Red Gryphon Modesty is in Venice with her new boyfriend Max, a young Italian architect. Max is restoring a palazzo on an island for a client. The client bought he island from Count Alborini. Modesty’s chance encounter with two cute but larcenous orphan children indirectly leads to a discovery by Alborini. There is something on that island, something worth killing for. There’s a connection with a huge statue of a gryphon.

And murder does indeed soon follow. Modesty and Willie have to foil Alborini’s plans, but Alborini is ruthless and has a team of rather nasty thugs in his employ.

This story has (as usual) some fine action scenes and it makes good use of the Venetian setting. Another solid story.

The Hell-Makers

The Hell-Makers starts with Willie Garvin stopping to help a distressed young woman by the side of a highway in Montana. Willie doesn’t know it yet but he just made a big mistake. Somebody intends to use Willie as the ammunition in an attempt to blackmail Modesty as part of an espionage plot. It’s going to be a nightmare time for Willie.

Modesty makes an unlikely friend, learns a new way of climbing unclimbable cliffs, makes an unexpected visit to a naturist resort and gets some help from a couple of birds, of the feathered variety.

There’s also a great deal of gunplay, with Modesty in a ruthless mood. And Modesty faces a more personal battle as well. A very good story.

Final Thoughts

Three very fine adventures, with The Hell-Makers being particularly interesting in that it tells us a bit more about the strange relationship between Modesty and Willie. A great collection, highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed several of the Modesty Blaise novels - Modesty Blaise, Sabre-ToothI, Lucifer and Last Day In Limbo - as well as a couple of the earlier comic-strip collections - The Gabriel Set-Up and The Black Pearl.

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