Friday, July 17, 2015

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax Pursued by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #11)



Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Well plotted story and strong characters
Cons: A bit more coincidence than normal to bring plot threads together
The Bottom Line:
Adventure in states
Starts with Mrs. P. running
Where will it all lead?




Mrs. Pollifax Calls Carstairs

The first ten books in the Mrs. Pollifax series have a certain formula to them.  Carstairs offers Mrs. Pollifax a job for the CIA that will be easy, she accepts, and finds herself in way over her head once she lands in the foreign country.  There’s a twist on that formula in Mrs. Pollifax Pursued.  Yes, there is still plenty of danger, and the plot has international implications.  But it starts out with danger finding Mrs. Pollifax all by itself.

If you’ve missed this delight series, you should know that Mrs. Pollifax is the world’s unlikeliest spy.  When we first meet her, she is a grandmother, garden club member, and widow who is looking to be useful again, so she heads down to the CIA and volunteers.  Her path crosses that of Carstairs, who hires her.  The result is 14 books of international intrigue with plenty of danger and fun.  And don’t count Mrs. Pollifax out.  She might not have any formal training, but she has a way of getting out of any situation she finds herself in.

When her second husband, Cyrus, takes a trip to the American Bar Association meeting, Mrs. Pollifax expects that the most exciting thing on her agenda will be the upcoming garden club meeting.  However, her curiosity is aroused when she keeps seeing a van drive by her country home.  Even more surprising is finding a young woman hiding in one of her closets.  While trying to sneak Kadi Hopkirk away from the house, Mrs. Pollifax finds herself followed.  With nowhere to turn, she calls Carstairs at the CIA, who whisks her away to a most unusual safe house with a mystery all its own.  Can she make sense of what is happening there?  What have she and Kadi stumbled into?

One unique feature in this series is that the fourteen books were written over the course of 35 years.  While the characters never really age, each book is set in the world of the day with current politics and villains.  This book came out in 1995, and with communism on the retreat and terrorism not on our radar like it is now, there was no obvious villain to choose.  Instead, author Dorothy Gilman invented the small African country of Ubangiba.  However, I can picture these events applying to many countries in the continent.

I first read this book about 15 years ago, and I have a vague recollection that I didn’t like it as much as some of the others.  I sure can’t figure out why at this point.  Maybe it was because of some breaks from formula?  I certainly enjoyed it on the reread.

Unlike most books in the series, this one takes place almost completely in the United States.  We only leave the country for the climax.  Still, the plot moves forward quickly with several seemingly unrelated threads coming together in the end.  Coincidence may play a larger role than normal in the series, but it doesn’t really bother me.  I actually expected everything to tie together in the end somehow, so I wasn’t disappointed when that happened.  The way things wind up fitting together is actually quite remarkable since so many of the events seem unrelated at first.

Most of the time in this series, Mrs. Pollifax is on her own and resolves things, and the scenes with Carstairs and his assistant Bishop are almost comic relief as they try to piece together what is happening from events that are a couple of chapters old by the time they hear them.  In this book, Carstairs drives the plot more than anyone else.  Yes, Mrs. Pollifax has a piece of the story to unravel, and she does, but Carstairs is the one who figures out the big picture and is really responsible for the climax.  That may have been what bothered me the first time around, but it didn’t bother me this time.  In fact, I loved getting to watch him work.  Obviously, I’ve always loved the character.  (Yes, my screen name is in honor of him.)

The series is light on recurring characters, but those we have are always a delight.  That’s true once again here.  The supporting players brought in are always a colorful bunch, but that’s double true here since some of the book takes place in a traveling carnival.  Still, the characters, no matter how colorful, always come across as real and never caricatures, a strength to this series I’ve always loved.

So I’m glad I picked up and reread Mrs. Pollifax Pursued.  While this isn’t your typical book in the series, the story is strong and the characters are fun.  What else really matters?

Want more adventures with the world's unlikeliest spy?  Be sure to check out the Mrs. Pollifax series in order.

This review is part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

6 comments:

  1. I adored these when I picked them up almost 40 years ago! A woman for whom I babysat lent some to me. Now that I'm closer to Mrs. Pollifax's age, I just want to BE Mrs. Pollifax! Don't know that I've read the ones from the '90s on. Will have to investigate. Thanks for the reminder of a series I enjoyed!

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    1. You are very welcome.

      I first read these in my early and middle 20's and adored them. I'm still not her age, but as I reread them, I'm finding them just as fun.

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  2. I never considered reading any title in this series until I read your review. Now, however, I have changed my mind. Well done!

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    1. Thank you very much. That really does mean a lot to me.

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  3. So glad you are revisiting and reviewing these so she can find new fans! Love Mrs. Pollifax and I can't count how many times I've given The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax as a gift.

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    1. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax was the first one I read, but I had listened to Whirling Dervish a couple weeks before. Between the two, I was completely hooked. I stayed up late to finish Unexpected. I just had to know how it would end.

      Great memories, obviously.

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