Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful character; great plot
Cons: A tad slow in the middle; just at the edge of believability
The Bottom Line:
In middle of cold war plot
Means page turning fun
Introduction of the Charming Mrs. Pollifax
It was almost two decades ago that I first found the adventures of Mrs. Pollifax, the CIA's senior spy. I was inspired to reread the series recently. Naturally, the logical place to start is with the first book in the series, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.
Since the series was written over 35 years, Mrs. Pollifax never ages even though the enemies she fights against change with the times. The key to appreciating the series, therefore, is to remember that each book takes place in the year it was written. For this book, the year is 1966, and the cold war is very much a hot issue.
Mrs. Pollifax is bored. Her kids have grown and her husband has passed away. She enjoys her volunteer work and her garden club membership, but she's looking for some purpose in her life again.
She decides to pursue the one thing she's always wanted to do. She travels to
and marches into CIA
headquarters to volunteer her services. Langley,
At the same time, Mr. Carstairs is looking for a currier. He wants someone unknown and innocent looking who will be able to pass for a tourist. When he accidentally meets Mrs. Pollifax, he knows he has found his agent. The fact that she has no training is fine since, while the situation is dangerous, she shouldn't be in any real danger.
She's given a three-week vacation to
only job is to walk into a bookstore on a certain day, utter a few code
phrases, and bring the package with her back to Carstairs. What could be
However, when the appointed day arrives, she walks into the bookstore and is promptly kidnapped. Soon she finds herself on a plane with another agent being taken to who knows where. She's stumbled into a situation way beyond her experience. What she does know is, it's her duty to escape. And with a little luck and some planning, she just might do it.
This book is so much more fun then I remembered. Mrs. Pollifax is an absolute hoot to watch in action. She is extremely naive about the world she has just entered. Her enthusiasm and desire to do everything correctly is hilarious. Her treatment of her captors is a riot as well.
While she is naive, she is not stupid, an important distinction. It takes all of her brain and ingenuity to create the escape plan, and even then, she figures out some things about their guards that almost create more of a problem for them. Even Farrell, the agent captured with her, only puts stock in her plan after she has done much of the planning.
Most of the other characters are well developed as well. This is especially true of Farrell, who, next to Mrs. Pollifax, gets the most page time. Some of the guards stand out as well. The least developed characters in this entry are Carstairs and his secretary Bishop. But that's because, while important characters to the series, they really have little to do.
The story itself moves along at a brisk pace. This book does have the slowest start of any in the series because it needs to set up the premise. However, even that is entertaining. It slows down slightly in the middle but then picks up speed for the breakneck final third. The first time I read the book, I couldn't stop once I hit that point, even though I knew how it had to end. This time wasn't much better. It's that good.
While it tries hard, the story does strain believability on a few points. Honestly, however, they're minor, and it's easy to fall under the charm of the story. Of course, this is helped by a writing style that draws you into the events and makes you believe it can happen.
I'm young enough that I didn't live through this specific period and my memories of the end of the Cold War are fuzzy. I don't know how accurate the world relationships portrayed here are. But I do know they make for an interesting story and create a picture of the cold war I hadn't considered before.