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Book Note: Peter O'Donnell, A Taste For Death

I read this book about 9-Jan-2002. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1969. This note was last modified Tuesday, 10-Oct-2017 19:50:45 PDT.

This is book 4 of the "Modesty Blaise" series.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


I believe Martin Schafer first turned me on to the Modesty Blaise books. They're now one of my favorites. Modesty and Willy are important to me. I've learned a lot from them. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I'd encountered them a decade or so earlier.

What's so good about them? Well, what isn't? Okay, the bad guys have a tendency towards caricature. But even they are interesting, thought through, reasonably consistent. The good guys are diverse, finely-drawn, believable, fallible, clever, and all sorts of other things; each to their own. In particular, the characters aren't simple.

The basic format is what I think of as the "caper" novel. A complex operation, with things going wrong that have to be dealt with on the fly. Sometimes Modesty and Willy plan things, sometimes they're caught up in other people's plans.

The various editions I have have uniformly terrible covers. They make the books look like soft to medium porn, probably somewhat sadistic. Not even the bad guys are consistently like that. Actually, what sex is present is nearly always consensual and very friendly, and doesn't occupy that much screen time.

Modesty and Willy are practically superhero-class characters. Not invulnerable, but incredibly good fighters in many styles, and also good at all sorts of other relevant skills, from skulking to parachuting to electronics to whatever. I think they've got pretty much every skill that could conceivably be justified as possible for a human being that would be relevant to a series of caper novels—all in two characters. I find this comfortable and easy to accept, myself; your disbelief may vary. Things aren't pulled on you by surprise, and skills don't vanish at the end of the novel they were introduced for. And they have hobbies to boot.

These books are great fun—high-brow action adventure, with twisted villains that need killing.

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David Dyer-Bennet