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Dead Man's Handle [Paperback]

Peter O'Donnell


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Book Description

Oct. 28 2005 Modesty Blaise series
This latest installment in the Modesty Blaise pulp-fiction series opens with Willie Garvin, Modesty's loyal lieutenant, rescuing a Hong Kong businessman from a Red Chinese jail. The thrills continue when Willie is kidnapped by Sibyl Pray and held prisoner at the Hostel of Righteousness, the headquarters for delusional terrorist Dr. Thaddeus Pilgrim, on the Greek island of Kalivari. The plot thickens as Willie is brainwashed into believing that Modesty has been killed and that he must kill her murderer—a woman who looks exactly like Modesty. When Modesty finds herself kidnapped and brought to Kalivari, she is forced to fight in deadly gladiatorial combat against Willie. Peppered with ingenious twists of fortune, varied and exotic locations, and a cast of fiendishly evil villains, this is a classic Modesty Blaise adventure.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press (Oct. 28 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285637274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285637276
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 12.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #879,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"One of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson." —Kingsley Amis, author, The James Bond Dossier

About the Author

Peter O'Donnell created Modesty Blaise as a strip cartoon that was syndicated in more than 42 countries. The strip led to a series of novels about Modesty and her faithful lieutenant, Willie Garvin.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modesty is a Female James Bond!!! April 29 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Too bad I found out about Modesty too late! All of these books are out of print. Modesty is a female James Bond type of gal with a mysterious past and a lot of dangerous skills. I love her interaction with Willie Garvin and the various aspects of her character that allow her to cold-bloodedly kill when necessary and have compassion at other times! Of course, these books are a bit dated with technology, but then many of them were written in the 60's. I'd like to see these back in print!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "He's probably wondering about 'is next incarnation. He's certainly finished with this one." Feb. 16 2007
By Rennie Petersen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
How would you react on being stalked by a gunman on a lonely beach, and you're alone with a bikini-clad young lady and no weapon anywhere around?

That's the situation Willie Garvin, Modesty Blaise's close companion, is faced with in chapter two of "Dead Man's Handle". Willie, who is known for being very inventive, asks the young lady to lend him her bikini bottom and ... well, read the book and be amazed.

"He's probably wondering about 'is next incarnation. He's certainly finished with this one." (page 30) says Willie a couple of pages later in a comment on the condition of the would-be attacker. And now the stage is set for the slow but sure escalation leading to the final climax some 200 pages later.

"Dead Man's Handle" (1985), like all of the Modesty books, is an action thriller about Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. In this book they go up against a gang of criminals who, under the guise of being a religious sect, obtain money by "answering the prayers of the needy". That is, as long as the "needy" are rich and willing to pay to have their prayers answered, even when this involves the killing of a business competitor, for example.

Most of the story takes place in England and on a Greek island. The action really heats up when the bad guys kill one of Willie's girlfriends and kidnap Willie. Modesty, of course, goes after the bad guys to rescue Willie, willingly walking into what she knows is a trap just to get into contact with him again. Then comes the final battle with Modesty and Willie together against the band of approx. twelve skilled assassins.

The most disappointing thing about "Dead Man's Handle" is the main bad guy, Dr. Thaddeus Pilgrim. Dr. Pilgrim is leader of the "Hostel of Righteousness", and may be malevolent and a serious threat to Modesty and Willie, but his nastiness is a primarily a byproduct of his insanity. And it's not the kind of insanity that inspires awe or terror; instead it's an insanity that is self-destructive and petty.

Someone who feeds ground glass to a jackdaw and LSD to a white mouse is sick in a way that evokes disgust, not fright. I'd far prefer a bad guy who can really scare me, not one who is just repugnant.

Another problem with "Dead Man's Handle" is that there is too much repetitiveness. Many of the plot elements in this book are warmed-over devices from one or more of the previous books in the Modesty series. They may have been exciting the first time around, but now they're old hat, at least to those who have read the whole series.

Still, this is a Modesty book, and I am giving it three stars. There's a very nice flashback in the first chapter, telling how Willie became Modesty's right-hand man by single-handedly doing a dangerous job that should have been impossible. Modesty's and Willie's fighting skills and inventiveness are wonderful as usual, and there's the usual intelligent and humorous slant on the whole story.

In summary, the poorest book in the Modesty series, but still recommended.

I'll conclude this review with a brief critique of the whole Modesty Blaise series of books. Here's a list of all of the Modesty books, along with my ratings (1-5 stars):

Modesty Blaise (1965) - 5 stars *****
Sabre-Tooth (1966) - 5 stars *****
I, Lucifer (1967) - 4 stars ****
A Taste for Death (1969) - 5 stars *****
The Impossible Virgin (1971) - 4 stars ****
Pieces of Modesty (6 short stories, 1972) - 5 stars *****
The Silver Mistress (1973) - 4 stars ****
Last Day in Limbo (1976) - 3 stars ***
Dragon's Claw (1978) - 3 stars ***
The Xanadu Talisman (1981) - 3 stars ***
The Night of Morning Star (1982) - 3 stars ***
Dead Man's Handle (1985) - 3 stars ***
Cobra Trap (5 short stories, 1996)

(Note that the last book, "Cobra Trap", came after a very long pause, and is a collection of short stories, not a novel.)

"Dead Man's Handle" marked a milestone. We Modesty fans didn't realize it at the time, but the series was basically finished. Peter O'Donnell had given us 11 books (10 novels and one collection of short stories) over a span of 21 years, and we had loved them all, and now it was over.

Looking back we can see that the quality of the series remained extremely high over the first six books, peaking with "A Taste for Death", one of the best books of fiction I've ever read. But then there was a slow and steady decline, with "Dead Man's Handle" marking a low point.

As the quality went down, the length of time between the books increased. The first few books in the series appeared at an average rate of one per year, then the frequency dropped to an average of one book every second year, and then one every third year. It was very frustrating for a die-hard Modesty fan, let me tell you.

But on reflection it was good that Peter O'Donnell stopped when he did. As mentioned, "Dead Man's Handle" marked a new low point, so it's probable that if Peter O'Donnell had continued he would have begun to make his fans unhappy about the quality, as well as the quantity.

In conclusion, if you like action thrillers placed in an international setting then give the Modesty Blaise series a try, and start with the first book. Still highly recommended, even though it's showing it's age.

Rennie Petersen
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modesty To The Rescue March 7 2003
By Ann McCabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Once upon a time, long ago, Modesty Blaise met Willie Garvin - and a couple Kingsley Amis reckoned to be the best criminal double act since Holmes and Watson began their adventures.
Although one of the latter Modesty books, this begins with the story of how Willie joined forces with Modesty, and how this adventure reflects forward.
All the best Peter O'Donnell characteristics are here: memorable villains, fast action, a whirling story of courage, class, strength, spirit and old fashioned human resource: it is these core elements that stop the Modesty books from dating.
Modesty and Willie are real people, action heroes with real human character and vulnerability, and in this one Modesty has to save Willie from capture and [mental torture] on a lonely island in a tale with plenty of twists and turns of high readability.
These are people books; technology does not take over, the characters are all good, even the most minor, and O'Donnell writes with a spare, humorous style that has zest and energy.
Read one of these books and find out what has made, and kept, Modesty Blaise books such a cult for 40 years.
The fights, the friendships, the finesse and the fine style make an un-putdownable book that remains, despite re-reading, one of my favourites in the 11 title series.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modesty is a Female James Bond!!! April 30 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Too bad I found out about Modesty too late! All of these books are out of print. Modesty is a female James Bond type of gal with a mysterious past and a lot of dangerous skills. I love her interaction with Willie Garvin and the various aspects of her character that allow her to cold-bloodedly kill when necessary and have compassion at other times! Of course, these books are a bit dated with technology, but then many of them were written in the 60's. I'd like to see these back in print!
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Modesty Blaise Nov. 24 2012
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I give five stars to all of the Modesty Blaise series. Intriguing, thrilling, fascinating, clever. Great characters, both the heroes and the villains. And the best written hand-to-hand combat scenes ever done.
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