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Saturday, September 15, 2012

THE IMPOSSIBLE VIRGIN (1971)

While making an emergency stopover in Rwanda, Modesty Blaise meets Giles Pennyfeather, a slightly dotty medical practitioner with an almost uncanny knack for healing his patients under the most dire of conditions. During her time with Pennyfeather, Modesty serves as his nurse — and later much more — and they soon find themselves accosted by two vicious thugs, Adrian Chance and Jacko Muktar, who seek to shake down the doctor for any information he may have gleaned from Novikov, a Soviet defector with a lucrative secret. The problem is Novikov died after escaping grueling torture at the hands of Chance, and Pennyfeather may have inadvertently overheard him babble the one bit of information vital to the plans of the thugs' master, a diminutive and icily evil international criminal named Brunel. Of course Modesty kicks Chance and Jacko's asses like a motherfucker, humiliating them mercilessly, but lets them live after stranding them miles from civilization, a huge error in judgement that comes back to kick her ass — along with the collective ass of Pennyfeather and her right-hand man, Willie Garvin — in a way that makes most of her previous brushes with death or worse pale by comparison...

That's just the setup for a majorly harrowing adventure, a story that puts both Modesty and Willie to some serious tests of all of their many skills, and even if you're a fan of the series and know for a fact that Willie is the co-lead in every book in this series, there's a sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat and believing along with Modesty that Willie has been taken out of the picture once and for all; I mean, what else could you possibly think if you witnessed your best friend engage in savage combat, while strapped to a steel chair no less, and escaping from a straight jacket as he gets thrown out of a plane flying at three thousand feet, sans parachute? I won't say anymore, but Willie's missing for about the next third of the book, and when he shows up in the nick of time, his explanation of how he cheated death is so ludicrous and over-the-top that you have believe every hilarious word of Willie's account.

And speaking of hilarity, there's a great bit in which Modesty and Willie decide to steal some vital stolen documents from Brunel because their sale would lead to the inevitable sacking of their pal Sir Gerald Tarrant from his position in the secret service, and they just can't let that happen (plus Modesty wants to give the papers to Sir Gerald as a surprise birthday present). After days of intense scrutiny of the defenses in and around Brunel's London home our heroes determine there's absolutely no way to break in without tripping all manner of alarms and getting shot in the process at the very least, even given their world class talents, so they come up with a plan both brilliant in its simplicity and downright sidesplitting in its audacity. I won't tell you how they pull it off, but it's so simple that you'd never think of it, and when it happens you'll smack yourself in the head for not thinking of something so obvious.

Simply put, the heroes are in top form, the villains are among the most heinous human vermin ever to (dis)grace the prose page, and the supporting characters, Pennyfeather and the cruelly abused albino Lisa, are worthy of books in and of themselves. And, no, I'm not going to tell you what the title refers to. RECOMMENDED

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