A blade. Cutting through the wind, slicing the air before it. Everything about it was sharp: edge, speed, purpose. There was something appalling about it and for one of those long, long seconds I was transfixed.
Regular readers will know of my affection for the Modesty Blaise thrillers. I wrote a foreword to a collection of the cartoons that will be published next year, an honour I’m inclined to be rather swanky about.
Modesty is half – well, more like three-quarters, but she’d die rather than admit to it – of one of the great double-acts in fiction. Her relationship with Willie Garvin has been compared to that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson.
Willie is Modesty’s right arm. He is a master of combat, but he can’t abide a handgun, never uses one and confesses that if he did so, he’d be unable to hit a barn from the inside. His chosen close-quarter weapon is the knife: sometimes used in the hand but more often, and supremely, as a thrown weapon.
In one story after another, a bad guy meets his end – normally when all the odds are all in his favour – as Willie lets rip and sends one of his superb hand-crafted lethally-honed knives whistling through the air.
“I imagine you could put a knife in my hand before I could reach a pocket, Garvin,” says the appalling Brunel in The Impossible Virgin.
“Throat,” Willie corrected amiably.
Note the genius of the author Peter O’Donnell in that “amiably”.
It was the lethal qualities of Willie’s spinning knives that I was reminded of when I saw the kestrel honing his edge against the big wind over the marsh. Willie’s knives are death flying through the air, instruments of deadly certainty. I don’t know what kind of luck the kes had been having that morning but there was the same kind of lethal intention about him.
Beautiful, yes, of course, but a rather terrible sort of beauty. It’s possible to hone your own kitchen knife so effectively that you become a little afraid of it: familiar, domestic – but fearsome all the same. That was the kestrel.