Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax on Safari by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #5)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful time with a great main character
Cons: Slow to get started
The Bottom Line:
Trip to Africa
Hunting for an assassin
Not your normal trip

Mrs. Pollifax Versus Aristotle

Mrs. Pollifax on Safari is the fifth book in the series and was the final book I read the summer I discovered the series.  I remember loving it, so I was looking forward to sitting down and rereading it.  It is still quite enjoyable, but it doesn't quite hold up as well as I remembered.

For those who aren't familiar with the series, Mrs. Pollifax squeezes spying for Carstairs at the CIA in between volunteer work and garden club activities.  But don't make the mistake her enemies do.  This is one resourceful grandmother.  Each book in the series takes place in the time it was written, so they are a nice time machine to the world politics of another era.  This one takes us to the fragile democracy of Zambia during the late 1970's.

Carstairs has gotten intel that the assassin Aristotle is going to be on a safari in Zambia to arrange his next hit.  Since no one even knows what he looks like, Carstairs knows this is a great opportunity to gather information.  He immediately calls his favorite innocent tourist.  Mrs. Pollifax's mission is to take pictures of the other people on the safari.  The CIA will use them to figure out who Aristotle really is.

But the first night of the safari, Mrs. Pollifax discovers that her film has been stolen.  Suddenly, things are personal, and she decides she will not only take the pictures but figure out who Aristotle is.  Can she do that when her fellow travelers seem so nice?  What secrets might they be hiding?

Most of the books in the series start a little slowly since they follow the same formula.  Mrs. Pollifax gets her assignment, prepares for the trip, and meets someone along the way who winds up playing a part in the story.  This time, that set up seemed a bit too long and drawn out to me.  Part of that is because of a sub-plot that seems inconsequential.

Once Mrs. Pollifax arrives in the animal reserve and we meet the suspects, things pick up.  There's a hint of romance in this book, that is if he doesn't turn out to be Aristotle.  A twist in the second half really helps things along.  And there's a scene near the end that has to be my favorite in the entire series.  It makes me laugh so hard.

Of the characters we've seen so far, only Mrs. Pollifax is in this book.  Carstairs and his assistant Bishop disappear after they give her the assignment only to provide one last laugh in the final chapter.  There's a discussion early in the book about whether Mrs. Pollifax is still as naive as she was in the first book or not.  The truth of the matter is, she is smarter but not smart enough to keep from making a couple stupid mistakes.  But she is as resourceful as ever, which means time spent with her is always a pleasure.  Honestly, it is easy to narrow the suspect characters down to two or three, but even so a couple of them surprised me in the end.

While the book was written 30 years ago, it really doesn't show.  I did notice many of the paragraphs are longer than the modern books I read, but the language was still high accessible.  I had no trouble flying through the book at my normal pace.

I still enjoyed Mrs. Pollifax on Safari, but not quite as much as the first time around.  Fans of the series will hardly care.  Any adventure with this addictive main character is great news.

You don't necessarily need to read the Mrs. Pollifax series in order, but you'll enjoy reading all of them.

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