When I worked for Camden libraries so long ago I hesitate to even contemplate it, I had the delight of the pick of the new books as they arrived and there were two authors who produced a book every year or so who I always looked out for. They were Peter O'Donnell and his Modesty Blaise books and Madeleine Brent and her adventure stories spiced with a dash of romance and always in an exotic setting. I never missed any of these two author's books.
The Modesty Blaise books were regarded as pretty daring at the time as they featrued a heroine who slept quite freely with her current lover. She was skilled in marshal arts, could climb a mountain, pothole, deep sea dive and did all of this with consummate ease and style. She had made her money running the Organisation, a syndicate with Robin Hood tendencies (cannot have a heroine being a real villain now could we?) with her partner Wilie Garvin, and had retired on the proceeds. She now lived in a penthouse apartment in London furnished with the finest antiques, where she fenced to keep her figure in trim and installed a workshop where she cut and faceted priceless jewelry. Well a girl has to have a hobby...
Modesty spoke several languages, wore designer clothes, attended the opera and was, in short, a paragon. I always found her extremely annoying. However, these books portrayed a strong, independent woman who took no prisoners and at this time, despite the fact that women were burning their bras and we were in the Swinging Sixties, characters like this were pretty thin on the ground so, for that reason alone, they were worth reading.
Souvenir Press have been reprinting all of these adventures and I have enjoyed reading them all over again. Still find her annoying but the style of the books and the excitement and content remain the same. As the quote on the back of one of these titles says "Before Buffy, before Charlie's Angels, before Purdy and Emma Peel there was Modesty Blaise".
And now to Madeleine Brent. The heroines in all of these books is feisty and determined and brave and resourceful under pressure. She usually faces disaster bravely and has to deal with pretty horrid situations, be it kidnapped and kept as a slave in the wilderness of the Hindu Kush; running away from an unhappy home and joining a circus as a trapeze artist; discovering that your father who has just died in an accident was an international and highly successful thief and that somebody thinks you know where his hidden cache is and tries to force you to tell them, or being married off as a young and naive bride and discovering you are married to a brutal husband and you run away to sea to escape after his murder.
These books are terrific and am delighted to report that Souvenir Press are now reprinting these as well and I am also delighted to discover that my championing of this author played a small part in their republication. They are written with great verve and style and are, simply, a stonking good read. Lovely James at Souvenir Press sent me The Long Masquerade, Stormswift, Kirkby's Changeling and The Capricorn Stone to me last week and I can tell you now that everything came to a grinding halt, no housework was done, all other books abandoned as I sat down and read all four of them in three days. I did not go out and barely spoke to anybody so thrilled was I to wallow in them again and discover that my worry that I might find now find them dated and not as good as I remembered, was a baseless one. I adored them all over again.
Madeleine Brent was shortlisted twice for the Romantic Novelist's Association of the Year award and actually won in 1978. The novels were published in eleven countries and were best sellers.
Now I do not wish to claim hindsight or that I am perceptive or clever or eagle eyed or any of these things, but it is the plain truth that way back then I remember thinking how many qualities both Modesty Blaise and Brent's heroines shared. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed both of them so much.
Years passed and it was not until the 1990's that I discovered by sheer chance that Madeleine Brent and Peter O'Donnell were one and the same person and suddenly it all became crystal clear. THAT was why I had spotted the similarity between these spunky heroines. And then Modesty Blaise and Madeleine Brent - same initials. Missed that totally.
Why I never found out before I do not know and I do wonder if Mr O turned up to collect his award from the Romantic Novelists or if he sent somebody else along on his behalf and kept his secret safe. Odd isn't it that writers such as George Eliot and Charlotte Bronte had to write under masculine names to get their books published and now a man has to write romantic adventures novels under a female name to be taken seriously? I find it rather ironic. I know for a fact that Mills & Boon have a few male writers using a pseudonym and also that a writer of the type of Saga we see on the library shelves has a six foot male Scot as an author and he has to keep stumm as well.
The Brent books come with the Random Seal of Approval - if you want a great read, adventure, a good yarn, dashing hero, wicked villains, exotic settings and a heroine with guts and grit then these are for you. Add in excellent writing, a good plot and narrative and you have the perfect book to take on holiday with you, pin you to the sofa on a rainy day, or to whisk you past your stop on your commute so you are late for work.
I love these books so much in case you have not noticed so please please please do yourself a favour and get all of them from the book shop, request them at the library or whatever and ENJOY.
My thanks again to Souvenir Press who took me back over forty years to my late teens and early twenties when I first read these. Happy Days.