Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Story, characters, take on late 1990’s world relations
Cons: Mrs. Pollifax not as instrumental in climax as I would like
The Bottom Line:
A Jordan mission
Gets complicated quickly
More Pollifax fun
Mrs. Pollifax Hunts for a Manuscript
One of the things I had always appreciated about the Mrs. Pollifax series is the fact that, as the years passed, the series stayed up to date with the world political climate of the time. That’s rather important for a spy series written over the course of 35 years. I most appreciated that when I got to read Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist. When I originally read it in 2001, it was only a few years old, and I loved the added feel of realism that gave the book.
If you aren’t familiar with the series, you really do need to meet Mrs. Pollifax. She’s a grandmother, widow, garden club member – and part time CIA agent. From 1966 to 2001, she traveled the globe on assignment for Carstairs, doing the impossible on a regular basis. These are light for the spy genre, but utterly fun. (And yes, I might have borrowed the name Carstairs from these books. That’s how much I love them.)
Mrs. Pollifax’s old friend Farrell walks into the CIA and asks to borrow Mrs. Pollifax. He’s heading to Jordan on a freelance assignment and needs her as part of his cover as a tourist. He’s going over there to get the manuscript for the final work that Iraqi author Dib Assen produced before he was killed in prison. With the understanding the Farrell will share the manuscript with the CIA, Carstairs gladly agrees, and Mrs. Pollifax is only too eager for another adventure.
Since Mrs. Pollifax and Farrell are taking a flight last minute, they don’t get seats together, and Mrs. Pollifax finds her seatmate a complete bore. Her opinion of him changes when she lands however, and strange things start to happen. Will these events complicate picking up the manuscript?
Life under Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the 1990’s. How much more topical could you get? Yet, as usual, this book does a great job of giving us a compelling story and characters with the mystery as a backdrop to the action. Still, I found rereading this book almost 20 years later to be very interesting in light of what has happened since. It is a good reminder of just what we were dealing with in Iraq at the time. (And that is as political as I am going to get.)
Sadly, I must say I did have a complaint with the plot. It starts strongly with plenty of things happening that Mrs. Pollifax must figure out. However, as we near the end, Mrs. Pollifax seems more reactionary then instrumental in the solution to almost everything. Oh, it’s been set up well before hand, but I enjoyed the earlier books where Mrs. Pollifax had everything figured out and resolved before anyone else did. But that’s a minor complaint since, as always, the book is so much fun to read.
Much of that fun comes from the characters. Mrs. Pollifax is a pure delight with her fascination for the world around her and the new cultures she is experiencing. I’ve always loved Farrell, and it’s great to see him pop up again (although he does utter the one series continuity error in the book). We get plenty of scenes with Carstairs and Bishop back in Langley as well, which I love. And the new characters? They are classic Mrs. Pollifax characters that are quirky, fascinating, and completely lovable.
Speaking of classic Mrs. Pollifax, there’s also the humor. No, I wouldn’t consider the book a comedy or spoof, but there are times when characters utter a line that is very funny and breaks the tension. That just adds to the charm of the story.
Of course, the problem with a contemporary, topical book like this is that it does become dated. 20 years after it was released, that has certainly happened to Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist. But the story and characters and timeless. So transport yourself back to the late 1990’s and enjoy another adventure with old friends.