Index: Modesty Blaise

Peter O’Donnell: 1920 – 2010

“Stateless by birth, British by choice. Multilingual. Expert at judo, karate, gem carving, smuggling, and exotic espionage techniques… Former master criminal who retired with well over a half a million sterling. Hobby: Danger… The worlds most dazzling female secret agent… Modesty Blaise.”

Blaise is the the sovereign princess of Spy-Fi, a shapely Venn diagram of the finest aspects of Flint, Helm, Palmer, and Bond. Whether in va-va-voom-ish comics or in expertly overheated novels, she was a triumph, as the New York Times put it, of the “hyperbolic imagination” of Peter O’Donnell, who died this weekend…

The thing is, the “hyperbolic can i buy vicodin in cancun imagination” is among the hardest sensibilities to wield. Kitsch, absurdity, sentimentality, schmaltz, and general idiocy lie on all sides of its narrow beam. But when expertly trained, nothing can match its light and heat – and therein lies the true measure of O’Donnell’s accomplishment and as well as the weight of his absence.

(above, pulp maestro Bob McGinnis‘s covers for the first three Modesty Blaise novels, plus the first edition of the debut)