Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peter O'Donnell, 1920-2010

Modesty Blaise creator, Peter O'Donnell died Monday. He was 90. O'Donnell was a master of the cold-war era spy thriller. His stories were international adventures with a strong female protagonist--Modesty Blaise.  The Modesty Blaise books and short stories spanned thirty years and the comic strip lasted nearly forty until O'Donnell's retirement in 2001.

Although he wrote them at a time when interest in spy thrillers was at a peak following on the success of Ian Fleming, Modesty was not a female James Bond and and the stories were not Fleming rip-offs.

O'Donnell's thirteen Modesty Blaise books were suspenseful, charming, stylish and witty. When other writers were filling their stories with sex and outlandish plot devices, O'Donnell remained true to the essential humanity that cemented the bond between Modesty and her companion, Willie Garvin. Kingsley Amis called Modesty and Willie, "one of the great partnerships in fiction, bearing comparison with that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

I was hooked (or should I say, 'nailed') on the stories from the publication of the first book in 1965. I didn't know about the comic strip until I got to Thailand in 1972 and found them in the Bangkok Post. Not only did they have O'Donnell's great stories, they were richly drawn by Enrique Romero. I have heard that O'Donnell was busy writing the introductions to some reprint books of the comics. If so, I intend to find them.

O'Donnel showed me that it is possible to write a strong female protagonist in an adventure series without sinking to the misogynistic burlesque of Carter Brown's Mavis Seidlitz and others of that era. O'Donnell treated his protagonist with love and respect. His portrayal of the relationship based on respect, not sex, between Modesty and Willie was another powerful influence on me. and the model for the  relationship between Ava and Moon in my stories.

Besides the Modesty Blaise stories, O'Donnell wrote other comics for British newspapers, screenplays, dramas, and childrens books. He was a successful writer of Gothic romances under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent, all of which featured strong women, usually searching for identity in a tough world.

Peter O'Donnell will be missed, but Modesty will live long after him.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


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Morgan Mandel said...

I wonder if readers of his Gothics would have been surprised that a guy wrote those books. That's amazing. The man was certainly multi-talented.

Morgan Mandel