Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mrs. Pollifax and the rest of the characters
Cons: Plot rather formulaic
The Bottom Line:
Switzerland is safe?
Not with Mrs. Pollifax
But it's fun danger

Mrs. Pollifax Hunts Plutonium

As much as I love the Mrs. Pollifax series, there are three that stand out in my mind as the best the series has to offer.  A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax is one of those.  Rereading the fourth entry in the series, I remembered just how much fun it is.

Mrs. Pollifax is a grandmother, widow, garden club member, and part time CIA agent.  When Carstairs has an assignment that needs someone no one will suspect as an agent, he gives her a call.  The series was written over a 35 year period, and each book is like a time machine back to the politics of the age.  While this adventure was originally written in 1973, I was honestly surprised at how relevant it really was.

Mrs. Pollifax is getting promoted, sort of.  Her latest assignment is not her normal courier work.  Instead, she has been booked at a luxury spa in Switzerland.  Her assignment is to track down the plutonium that has been stolen from two plants recently and then shipped there.  Almost enough has been stolen to make a small atomic bomb, so naturally Carstairs and the rest of the international intelligence community is worried.

Upon arriving, Mrs. Pollifax makes contact with her Interpol counterpart and begins to learn what she can about the guests.  Robin Burke-Jones is clearly hiding something, but her attention is drawn to the young boy Hafez.  Something is upsetting this 10-year-old, and no one ever sees his grandmother.  Is he just a distraction?  Where is the plutonium?

What makes this book for me are the characters.  They are an absolute delight.  Mrs. Pollifax is her normal resourceful, intuitive self.  I absolutely adore her.  But it's new characters Robin Burke-Jones and Hafez that really make this one for me.  Several scenes with Robin absolutely make me laugh out loud.  And Hafez is cute without being overly obnoxious.  It's unfortunate that most characters are only one shot appearances in this series because I could read much more about them.  The rest of the cast is developed enough for their part in the story, although most don't have that much page time.

I will admit I was one step ahead of Mrs. Pollifax this time around.  And no, that wasn't just because I was rereading the book.  These books can be a bit formulaic, so there weren't that many surprises for me.  The good news is that the pace is so fast I was never more than five pages ahead of the plot.  Honestly, it's hard to believe that this book is only 191 pages because so much is crammed into them.

There is a wonderful scene at Chateau Chillon on Lake Geneva.  It's one of several heart pumping moments throughout the book.  I was able to visit Chillon when I went to Switzerland over 10 years ago.  As a result, I can say the scene takes a little poetic license with the facts, but it was still so much more fun on the reread.

The book holds up well despite the 35 years since it was written.  There were only a couple things that gave away the time difference.  As I mentioned, the politics under pending the story feel like something from today's newspapers.  And the writing is still fresh and flows well.

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax is another light, fun spy caper.  If you haven't found the pleasure of her company yet, fix that oversight today.

The books stand up fairly well on their own, but if you are looking for more adventures, check out the Mrs. Pollifax series in order.


  1. Mark,

    What are the other two you consider the best?


    1. Hi Ted,

      My other two favorites are the first, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, and the fifth, Mrs. Pollifax on Safari. There are quite a few others I really enjoy, but those three (including Palm) are my absolute favorites.

    2. Thanks, Mark. I just finished 'Palm' today. I had read the first three back in the last 80's. Then last November I decided to read another and picked up 'Hong Kong' which I enjoyed, but quickly realized that this is a series that needs to read in order!


    3. Oops .. that should have been 'late' 80's instead of 'last' 80s.


    4. Actually, I would argue that very few of the books need to be read in order, but Hong Kong is definitely one of those exceptions.

      And if it makes you feel any better, I didn't catch your typo until you brought it up.