30 Day Book Challenge, Day 17

Today’s challenge: Favorite quote from your favorite book.

I don’t have a single favorite book, but earlier this month I named Casino Royale as my favorite book in my favorite series, so I’ll go with that.

The last line of the book is a doozy, no doubt: “The bitch is dead now.” But it’s not my favorite. My favorite has to be the first line of the book, and therefore the first line of the entire Bond series, which I find to be a marvelous bit of scene-setting:

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

30 Day Book Challenge, Day 16

Today’s challenge: Favorite female character.

No hesitation here. My favorite female character is Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise.

Modesty was born in a post-ware refugee camp as a “Displaced Person”, gave herself her own name, and eventually takes control of a criminal gang in Tangier, which becomes known as The Network, specializing in heists and cons. After amassing a vast fortune, she retires from the criminal life, and now occasionally uses her skills and contacts to do “special favors” for the British Secret Service (her adopted country).

The character was created as a newspaper comic strip in England, where it ran for nearly 40 years from 1963 to 2002. Collections of those strips are still published as graphic novels, yet it was not the medium where I first discovered her and became a fan. In 1966, at the height of Bondmania, the strip was adapted as a film. Unfortunately as was the case in the late 60s with so many great properties, the producers decided to play it for camp. The film bombed. (It’s seriously awful.) During this time, the creator of the strip, Peter O’Donnell, was hired to write the novelization of the film, and it was released a year before the movie itself. Without the knowledge of the film’s terrible nature to drag it down, and buoyed by the popularity of the strip itself, the book, MODESTY BLAISE, became popular.

O’Donnell took advantage of this popularity and continued to write Modesty Blaise novels, most of which featured original stories, although with some elements appearing from the newspaper strips (usually greatly expanded upon)– and in some cases plots originating in the novels would later be adapted in the strip. In the end, O’Donnell wrote eleven novels and two short-story collections featuring Modesty — and it was these books that were my introduction to the character (initially hooked by marketing text which described her as “a female James Bond”).

I’m a full-on fanboy. My most prized Modesty Blaise items are a complete run of the paperbacks produced in 2008 in English by Penguin Books in India (a friend on a business trip indulged my begging), the spines of which combine to create a silhouette (in spot-gloss on the covers), and digital copies of three audio dramas based on the novels which have been produced by BBC Radio 4 since 2012 (so far they’ve done A Taste For Death, Modesty Blaise and The Silver Mistress.)

If you’re interested in diving in, the 50th anniversary edition of the first book (whose original paperback art I used with this post) is available from Amazon.



30 Day Book Challenge, Day 15.

Another tough one today. Favorite male character.

For as much as I love the Bond novels, Bond as a character isn’t really a favorite — I mean, there’s not a lot in a nearly-burned-out blunt instrument of the government that’s actually likable or admirable. That’s definitely a series where I like the writing and the plots more than the lead.

For a long time there, I probably would’ve said Sherlock Holmes, but I realize that was basically the aspirational goals of a smart kid, than any real love of the character. To this day, I’m still drawn to “competence porn.”

So I tried downshifting, to define “favorite” as “if somebody dropped a new book on me, featuring this character, I’d drop everything to read it immediately.” That made it a lot clearer. By that metric, my favorite male character is Roland Deschain, Stephen King’s Gunslinger. Duty, honor, sacrifice, a haunted past, a knightly hold-over of the Old Ways when there was still hope…