Author: Peter O’Donnell
Publisher: Souvenir Press
Over the years I haven’t blogged too much about Modesty Blaise, which I almost feel embarrassed about. A casual observer may think that I don’t like Modesty, which is actually far from the truth. So I thought it was time to rectify the dearth of Modesty material on P2K. What spurred me to action was prior to reading Last Day in Limbo, I read Charlie Charters’ Bolt Action, and the the heroine in that story, Tristie Merritt reminded me strongly of Modesty Blaise. Although they are very different characters, and with the passage of time, existing in very different universes, the characters share a lot of similarities, and seem to get themselves into some similar scrapes.
In my review for Bolt Action, I suggested that some of the action passages resembled those of one of my favourite Modesty Blaise books, The Silver Mistress, and just to labour the point, here’s a brief snippet from the climax of Bolt Action (Hodder & Stoughton 2010) – as Tristie Merrit tries to negeotiate the crawlspace area above the cabin of an airplane, just as it is about to be blasted from the sky. Page 350 – 351
She realises why she feels so short of breath. There’s no oxygen supply up there, other than what percolates up from the hole. It explains the tightness in her chest, and the sudden panting. “You’ve got to… get me… some oil. Cooking oil… Olive oil… anything… I saw some… in first class… the focaccia bread… Go.”
But he doesn’t move. He looks around the roof space, testing struts, pulling on brackets. When he speaks, his voice is apologetic. “Just wondering what you need the oil for?”
She gives a long sigh of exasperation. Her lungs feel curiously deadened. “Because there’s a slot… I need tp get through… over there,” and she points to her ten o’clock, “… little bigger than… the size… of a letterbox… and I need… to be… oiled up… to have a chance.”
She can almost hear his smile. “You’re kidding?” Tristie Merritt, naked oil wrestler. Woo, woo.
“No, Whiffler… and I’m going to need… your help… can’t reach… my back… and legs.”
He disappears like a mouse down a hole. No doubt the only person on the plane smiling.
And here’s a passage from the climax of The Silver Mistress (Archival Press 1981) – as Modesty Blaise, slicked in mud, takes on a professional killer named Sexton, while Sir Gerald Tarrant watches on. Page 227 – 230
She stood with her feet apart, her head thrown slightly back. By some trick of the reflected light which shone down from the glittering mass of needles in the dome, her body was turned to silver. Her hair, drawn tightly back, gleamed like a black helm. But for the slow rise and fall of the breasts under her steady breathing, she might have been an heraldic figure; woman rampant, silver, crowned sable.
She had known that Sexton would want to do it with his bare hands, given the slightest chance. The man came on and halted six paces from Modesty.
“I hope you’re not expecting to seduce me,” he said. “Aren’t you rather cold like that?”
She stood like a statue, not answering. Sexton glided a step nearer, testing the footing carefully. Then suddenly, moving very lightly and with that deceptive fluency which concealed speed, he came after her.
There was blood on her side now, where a glancing kick had torn skin from her ribs, but she seemed unaffected by it. The grease had helped the deflection, and was serving her well. Twice Sexton caught her briefly, once by the forearm and once by the ankle as he evaded a kick. Tarrant’s scalp crawled with fear, but each time she twisted the greasy limb free as the awful fingers closed.
Okay, by selecting those two passages, you’re probably thinking I am some weird fetishist. But I have my reasons that I will explain later – and after all, I am sure you’d rather hear about this Modesty Blaise adventure, Last Day in Limbo, than any of my nocturnal activities. So without further ado, Last Day in Limbo is the eighth book in Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise series – an adventure that doesn’t feature too much spying (although there is a small amount of espionage relayed at the beginning of the story), but still has the rough and tumble kind of adventure that you’d expect from one of Peter O’Donnell’s books.
This story starts with Modesty on vacation, doing a spot of white-water canoeing with millionaire John Dall. Their trip is rudely interrupted by two armed rednecks, who could have stepped off the screen from Deliverance, who take Modesty and Dall prisoner and start marching them up the mountain to a waiting helicopter, which will spirit them away. Of course, Modesty intervenes, and even though the kidnappers are professionals, she quickly takes them down.
The kidnapping was arranged by a corrupt millionaire businessman named Paxero, and his right hand minion, Damion. Paxero kidnaps other millionaires on behalf of his old twisted Aunt Benita, who runs a slave plantation in the middle of the jungle, called Limbo. Aunt Benita’s scheme involves kidnapping the world’s most wealthy and pampered people – faking their deaths, so there’s no questions – and then having spend the rest of their days toiling away as a slave. So the kidnap attempt, was actually aimed at the millionaire John Dall – Modesty, just happens to be an innocent bystander.
Meanwhile, Willie Garvin is helping out Sir Gerald Tarrant, the head of the Secret Service. Garvin is running a refresher course at the training centre where Tarrant’s operatives are taught a wide range of combat skills. Garbin’s student is Maude Tiller – one of Tarrant’s operative’s who has returned from a rather trying mission. She hasn’t quite been herself since she returned. Her last mission, quite coincidentally, was an investigation into the activities of Paxero, and she posed as a good time girl, who Paxero and Damion hired and used at their house in Switzerland. It seems Paxero and Damion are two peas in the same pod when it comes to creepy and aberrant sexual behaviour. It seems that Maude has not quite recovered from the sexual practices she was forced to perform.
Garvin takes it upon himself to teach Paxero a lesson, and jets off to Switzerland. Of course Modesty joins Garvin on his little adventure. The first thing they do is reconoitre Paxero’s house, and it’s there where Modesty begins to suspect there is more to Paxero than meets the eye. While searching the house, she finds a pocket watch, which she gave to a friend, Danny Chavasse, many, many years ago. She knew that Dany would never give away or sell the watch, so the only conclusion is that it must have been taken or stolen. Which then brings up the question, where is Danny Chevasse? Modesty has a sneaking suspicion that he is not dead.
Of course, Chavasse is one of the many people trapped in Limbo, although at this stage, Modesty does not know what or where Limbo is. But she soon finds out with the help of some of her friends (characters who have been in previous Modesty Blaise novels). The first, is Lucifer, who has powerful pre-cognitive skills. He tells Modesty, that Chavasse is still alive. Next are Steve and Dinah Collier. Dinah has extremely perceptive devination skills, and with a plumbob over a map, is able to ascertain where Chavasse is.
But Modesty has to get to Limbo, and she believes that the best way to do that, is to allow herself to be kidnapped, which she does while scuba diving. She knows she can work better from the inside. Meanwhile, Willie Garvin and Maude Tiller set off from British Honduras (Belize) and virtually cut their way through the rain forest to rendezvous with her at the camp – just in time for the inevitable showdown.
Out of all the Modesty Blaise books I have read (and I haven’t read them all), this is possibly the most sleazy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not smut, but it certainly implies quite a few sexually repugnant actions carried out by the villains. Above, I quoted passages from Bolt Action and The Silver Mistress that are similar, in the fact that they are slightly titillating; both featuring naked female characters, who both happen to be greased up – I know, I know, I am sounding like a weird fetishist again, but bear with me. The thing is, in both books, this titillation happens in tense and exciting action sequences, and as events play out are actually helping the female protagonist to prevail. So while, it’s sexy, it is also consistent with the plot. The greasing up, actually gives them an edge. Last Day in Limbo is driven by sex. Sex is not used as a titillating element in the story, but a ‘dirty’ backdrop. Modesty and Willie are only drawn into the story because of the villain’s penchant for kinky and deviant sex. As such, this book doesn’t share the same joyful tone, as many other stories of its ilk – even those by Peter O’Donnell.
My comments may make Last Day in Limbo sound like a bad book. It’s not. It’s not smut – as I alluded to earlier, the deviant sex is only implied, never paraded in front of the reader. The book is a good Modesty Blaise adventure. But I would suggest Peter O’Donnell, tried to take the story into slightly new territory eschewing, if only slightly, some of the light swashbuckling charm of the early novels, and attempted to bring the story kicking and screaming into the mid 1970s. And that’s not a bad thing.
While Last Day in Limbo is a solid piece of entertainment, there are one or two coincedences in the story, that start to push the the envelope of believability. There is an awful lot of ‘just going on a hunch’ type of action. Modesty friends and their ‘special powers’ also weaken the story. They are interesting characters, but there is very little investigation in this story. The pieces of the puzzle come to her just a tad too easily, and although her physical prowess comes to the fore at the end of the novel, her brain is never really tested.