From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

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Honor Among Thieves— a Star Wars novel

Honor Among Thieves coverThus far, my favorite Star Wars novel is Steve Perry’s Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between the film The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. Familiar characters from the film are necessary, but Shadows also introduces the memorable Dash Rendar, and by fleshing out what happened between Han Solo’s freezing in carbonite and Luke and Leia’s rescue, Perry’s novel seems quite organic.

There have been quite a few Star Wars based novels published since Shadows, but with the upcoming new Star Wars movie, it is natural that a new story, with the original characters, come to market, along with a zillion tee shirts. So, we have James S. A. Corey’s Honor Among Thieves, which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as Han continues to try to raise money to pay Jabba the Hutt, and Leia is involved in leading the rebellion, which is not just a war, but a fund raiser. Someone has to pay for all those X-wings. Anyway, a valuable spy sent a message indicating that she needs to be recalled, and Han needs the money, so he’s off to make contact, pick up Scarlet Hark, and pocket another reward. Nothing in their universe (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) is simple, however, and Han’s little errand gets complicated really quickly.

(spoiler alert)

One of the best ways to create suspense is to raise the stakes, and they are quite high in this novel. No, there is not a Death Star (twice is one too many IMHO) but a device that kills hyperspace travel is high stakes indeed, and Han, Leia, and Luke end up converging in an effort to wrest control of the hyperspace dampener from the Empire.

To be honest, I didn’t like Honor Among Thieves as much as I did Shadows of the Empire, but I did like it. Readers who want to revisit a young farm boy Luke, the pivotal Princess Leia, and the roguish Han Solo should pick up or download a copy of Honor Among Thieves. Before you know it, you’ll be right back in the groove, wondering when Darth Vader will swoop back into the action. This is a great way to get in the mood for the new film.