Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Book Review: The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #3)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good story with lots of fun
Cons: Plot driven by lots of coincidence
The Bottom Line:
Crazy adventure
As befits one of her hats
You'll love this wild ride

Mrs. Pollifax, Strange Hats, and Passports

The summer I discovered Mrs. Pollifax, I read five in a row, reading them as fast as I could get them from the library. That was a huge blessing because, as a college student, I couldn't afford to buy them then. Of those five, The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax was my least favorite. To be honest, I'm not sure why now. Having just reread it, I have discovered just how wonderful it really is.

For the uninitiated, Mrs. Pollifax is a widow, grandmother, garden club member, and part time CIA agent. Each book chronicles another wild, improbably adventure. The series was written over the course of 35 years, and each book is set in the "present." This book finds Mrs. Pollifax heading behind the Iron Curtain in 1971.

The very night that Mrs. Pollifax's night-blooming cereus finally blooms, an urgent message arrives at the CIA. The underground movement in Bulgaria is in desperate need of passports. Carstairs is only too willing to send them 8 forged American passports, and he has just the perfect way to smuggle them in, a new hat for Mrs. Pollifax.

Mrs. Pollifax is only too delighted to help and soon she's off to Eastern Europe. Things will be hard since she will be under the watchful eye of Bulgaria's tourist board at all times. But why did someone break into her room in the middle of the night? What happened to the young American Mrs. Pollifax met in the airport? And will she deliver the passports?

Now let's be clear here. This plot is anything but probable. The number of coincidences alone is staggering. But let's be clear about something else. It really doesn't matter. This is a book about enjoying a fun ride. And if you can set aside those voices complaining about the coincidences, you'll find a very fun read.

The plot moves along at a breakneck page. It's hard to believe all that is crammed into the 200 pages. Everything logically unfolds from what happened before it.

This isn't a hard nosed spy caper by any means. Along with the action and suspense, there are plenty of laughs, usually at people's reactions to Mrs. Pollifax's actions. Unfortunately, Carstairs doesn't have as many scenes back in Langley as normal, but those that are here are equally memorable.

Then there are the characters. Mrs. Pollifax is entertaining enough on her own. Even though this is only the third in the series, she has become wiser, but she hasn't lost her charming enthusiasm or belief in her fellow man. The rest of the characters are equally endearing. Well, except the villains who are despicable. They are each believable.

As I said, the book takes place in 1971. If you can keep that in mind, you'll find the book holds up rather well today. True, the political landscape is drastically different. But it's a good reminder of what life was like back then.

The one thing that isn't dated is the writing. If there were any outdated words, I sure didn't notice them. One interesting thing I did notice is that the Bulgarians who spoke English spoke in broken English. It was just enough to give them an "accent" on the page, but not enough to make it hard to read. In fact, I only noticed it in the last few chapters, so it definitely doesn't interfere with normal reading. The book is only 200 pages long. Trust me, those pages will fly by.

If you are looking for pure escapist fiction, look no further than The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax. Whether you look for it in your library (like I did originally) or at a bookstore (yes, I own it now), you'll enjoy every minute.

Looking for more spy fun?  Check out the Mrs. Pollifax series in order.


  1. I have the unabridged audiobooks of all the Mrs Polifax books. Because they never released them on CD (they were on cassette), I am legally able to digitise them (which I have done) If you would like to have them, you may-the reader is VERY good. I like all of the Mrs Polifax books, but I especially liked it when she married Cyrus *(although he hardly goes on adventures with her)

    1. You know, I listened to the first book after I'd started reading the series, but I didn't like the narrator at all. It wasn't how I pictured the characters. So thanks for the offer, but I will pass.