Augustus Mandrell vs. Modesty Blaise
At the time of my Modesty Blaise post, a reader commented that Blaise, James Bond and other popular spy/caper heroes of the time were products of pure wish fulfillment. "I think readers were a lot more naive then, and the heroes and plots of these books impossibly suave," my intelligent correspondent wrote. The first Modesty Blaise novel and the first Augustus Mandrell collection appeared the same year, 1965. Each in its own way seems both a reaction to James Bond and an illustration of my reader's point about wish fulfillment. The differences between the two heroes are at least as interesting as the similarities.
Both are projections of fantasy. Modesty Blaise is impossibly rich, impossibly fit, impossibly talented and impossibly accomplished. Her impossible dexterity in martial arts is supplemented by impossibly elaborate, impossibly miniaturized gadgets cooked up by her assistant, Willie Garvin.
Augustus Mandrell, on the other hand, has impossible sang-froid and an improbable skill with disguises (though the running comments he offers on the practice and the psychological effects of disguise render him a more accessible and less remote hero than is Modesty Blaise. He lets the reader in on his thinking). Mandrell gets by on guts and guile; Modesty Blaise's currency is raw skill.
Blaise works for the forces of good; Mandrell, though his sympathies are usually in the right place, works for the forces of money. Blaise has all the luxury goods that an upwardly aspiring reader in the consumer culture of the mid-1960s could wish for. Her apartment is decorated expensively but with taste, and her liquor is the best. At the age of thirty, having made her pile in ways only hinted at, she has risen above the need to work for mere money.
Augustus Mandrell cheerfully embraces the quest for cash, and his difficulty collecting the fees he charges for his "commissions" are a delightful running theme of all the stories. Could these contrasting attitudes toward money be due in part to the authors' nationalities? O'Donnell was British, McAuliffe American.
And then there's sex. Had Modesty Blaise and Augustus Mandrell ever wound up in the same story, they'd likely have been adversaries who eventually wind up cooperating. They also would have wound up in bed, where both would have performed extremely well. For her, the sex would have been a release of tension, fully enjoyed, expertly accomplished, leaving her prepared to resume her work. For him, it would have been a romp. They'd both have derived pleasure from it, but Mandrell would have experiened more joy.
© Peter Rozovsky 2006
humorous crime fiction