Willie’s Psalms and saints

Willie Garvin has an appropriate quote from the Psalms of David for any occasion. We have to assume that Peter O’Donnell also must have known his Psalms well, though not, perhaps, from time spent in gaol. With one exception, all the quotations are accurate or close paraphrases.

  • [In Modesty Blaise chapter 8, Willie asks Tarrant to help him.]
    “Cheer up, my old darling.” Willie’s manner was light, but there was still the underlying tension. “ ’Eaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
    Tarrant stared. “I beg your pardon?”
    “Psalm 30. Verse 5”.
    “You-ah-you have another calling, then?”
    “ ’Ardly a calling. But I once spent a year in the coop at Calcutta with only a psalter to read, so I got the psalms by ’eart.”


  • [Modesty Blaise chapter 11]
    “Be’old,” Willie’s voice intoned from the doorway. “Be’old ’ow good and ’ow pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Psalm hundred and thirty-three. Verse one.”


  • [Modesty Blaise chapter 13]
    As the door closed Tarrant relaxed a little and rubbed his eyes with finger and thumb. ‘I suppose she might listen to him,’ he said.
    Willie took out a cigarette and offered one amiably to Albert Alexandrou. ‘Like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear,’ he said, ‘which will not ’earken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely. Psalm fifty-eight, verse four.’


  • [At the end of Modesty Blaise, chapter 20, the tables are turned:]
    ‘I think not,’ Tarrant answered. ‘Not under the circumstances. After all “… they have seen the ungodly in great power; and flourishing like a green bay tree.” Psalm thirty-seven.’
    Willie stared incredulously. ‘I never knew you’d been in the coop,’ he said, and Hagan laughed.


  • [In Sabre-Tooth, chapter 2, Willie has just passed a police car at an illegal speed, but pretends the police car has a wobbly wheel.]
    ‘You made a good recovery,’ Tarrant said with dry amusement. ‘What happens if they come after you when they find nothing wrong?’
    ‘I’ll do me righteous bit. That wheel looked a bit wobbly to me, and I was only trying to ’elp. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” Psalm ninety-two, verse twelve.’


  • [Sabre-Tooth, chapter 5, when Willie is told how to placate a Mother Superior:]
    Relief swept the clouds from Willie’s brow. ‘Keep me as the apple of an eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings,’ he said gratefully. ‘Psalm seventeen, verse eight. Are we going to eat now?’


  • [After the snooker game in chapter 7 of I Lucifer]
    ‘Lovely,’ said Willie, and put his cue in the rack. ‘ “They ’ave digged a pit before me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves,” like a couple of right pills. Psalm 57, Verse 6. Not the last bit.’


  • [A Taste for Death, chapter 19]
    Dinah ran her hands down her cheeks. ‘You’re kidding,’ she said. ‘I’ve shrunk too much to be beautiful. My bust’s shrunk too, so I can’t even look sexy.’
    Willie grinned. ‘You’re fine,’ he said gently. ‘ “… The little hills rejoice on every side.” Psalm 65, verse 11.’


  • [The Impossible Virgin, chapter 7]
    ‘This damned albino girl was probably conning Willie.’
    ‘Could be.’ Willie looked up. ‘I reckon there’s about one per cent possibility.’ He smiled. ‘The lips of a strange woman drop as honeycomb, and ’er mouth is smoother than oil. But I don’t reckon so this time.’
    ‘With Brunel, I don’t like even a one per cent chance.’ Pennyfeather looked blankly at Willie. ‘Where do honeycombs come into it?’
    ‘Psalm five. Verse three.’


  • [In chapter 11 of The Impossible Virgin after Willie’s survival from being thrown out of the plane.]
    ‘Can’t kill the wicked that easy. He rode upon a cherub and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. Psalm 17, verse 8.’
    [This time Willie gets it wrong. It should be Psalm 18 v. 10. The verse he names reads ‚hide me in the shadow of your wings‘.]


  • [The Impossible Virgin chapter 12, explaining that he fell into a flock of sheep in a snowdrift]
    ‘He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool. Psalm 72, verse 6. About twenty of ’em there were.


  • [The Silver Mistress, chapter 5, after the abduction of Mr Wu Smith]
    Willie grinned. “ ‘For they that led us away captive required of us then a song.’ Psalm ’undred and thirty-seven, verse three.”


  • [Last Day in Limbo chapter 2, at the secret service training centre]
    [Jacoby] said, ‘I get what you mean about using your tongue to stay out of trouble.’
    ‘I labour for peace,’ Willie said gravely. ‘Psalm ’undred and twenty, verse six.’


  • [In The Xanadu Talisman, chapter 15, Tracy complains about having been rescued from the harem.]
    [Modesty] said, “You laugh out loud and I’ll kill you, Willie.”
    He wagged his head protestingly, gained tenuous control of his features, and said in a shaky voice: “For while I ’eld my tongue, my b-bones consumed away … Psalm 32, Verse 32”


  • In The Night of Morningstar chapter 14, Golytsin talks to the tied-up Modesty and Willie.]
    He sat down on the chair at a safe distance, the automatic resting on his knee, and said with cheerful sympathy, “Pretty bad luck you had, running into our full dress rehearsal like that.”
    Her voice was light and easy as she said, “Oh, that’s all right. These things happen, and we never fret about them. What’s that thing you often say about fretting, Willie?”
    His mind meshed with hers and he knew how the game was to be played. “You mean, ‘Fret not thyself because of the ungodly’?” he said, turning his head towards her.
    “Ah yes, that’s the one.”
    “Psalm thirty-seven, verse one.”


  • [In A Better Day to Die we are told that Willie Garvin’s verse-by-verse knowledge of the Psalms …]
    with their many ringing martial phrases would have enabled him to enjoy a ding-dong battle with the Reverend Leonard Jimson.


  • [In The Giggle-wrecker, having fired Professor Okuba over the Berlin Wall with a circus cannon, Willie quotes]
    Psalm Eighteen, Verse ten. ‘Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.’


  • [In The Dark Angels Willie appears to throw one of the attackers from an upper storey of a high building.]
    ‘That’s amazing,’ he said with interest. ‘D’you know, he missed every girder going down. Didn’t bounce once.’ He turned with a grin. ‘ “Yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.” Psalm eighteen, verse ten.’ He hauled Aruga to his feet and pushed him back to the edge. ‘Wonder if I can do it again?’


  • [Overcoming one of the assassins in Bellman, Willie says:]
    ‘There. D’you ’ear that, Van Rutte? Let the wicked fall into their own nets. Psalm ’undred and forty-one, verse ten.’


  • [In The Girl with the Black Balloon, at a party Willie talks to two men dressed as clergymen.]
    ‘For they stretch forth their mouth unto heaven, and their tongue goeth through the world.’
    They looked at him blankly, and the smaller man said, ‘I beg your pardon, sir?’
    ‘Psalm seventy-three, verse nine. I felt it an apt comment on the sound of a large cocktail party, but perhaps the allusion is rather strained.’



I list only Willie’s psalms. My source, John Higgins‘ Modesty Blaise site, also lists Reverend Uriah Crisp’s rantings and some other ecclesiastical citations.