Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #13)

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.

Haven't met Mrs. Pollifax?  Missing a few of her adventures?  Here are the Mrs. Pollifax books in order.

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


  1. Just sent the first one to a friend's mom. She called and is enjoying it so much. I haven't re-read the later ones as often as the earlier, but I may have to squeeze this one in.

    1. The earlier ones are better, but all of them have their moments.

  2. One of the first adult cozy series that I read. Loved these books. Thanks for the memories.

  3. I suppose after 13 books it would be hard to keep things super exciting... Sounds like it's still alright though.

    1. It's more than alright. Certainly a lot of fun. It's just not the best the series has to offer.

  4. Mrs Pollifax is one of my favorite series. I have devoured it, and actually have listened to them all. The narrator, Rosenblat, is fantastic. exactly the voice I would imagine for Emily! I like the fact that each book takes place in a different country (that's actually I started reading them), with important elements connected to that country

    1. I tried an audio version and I didn't care for it. I prefer the version of Mrs. Pollifax I hear in my head, I guess.

      Different time and different country. That is another draw to the series, isn't it?

  5. As Emma says, the audios are OUTSTANDING! I have them all-I digitised my old cassettes. I forget which book, but one of these includes an interview with Dorothy Gilman-she's REALLY a trip!

    I think my only complaint is that Farell didn't marry the girl he had such a tendre for in the last book with him in it (I forget her name-she was a young CIA agent that always argued with him)

    Thanks for the review, Carstairs! I am currently rereading my Race Against Time series from the 80s. I'd ask you to review them, but they are so rare that i doubt you have a copy, and I doubt many of your readers will have heard of the books. So, any new series you plan to cover next?

    1. I've never even heard of the Race Against Time series.

      No definite plans on what old series, if any, I'll tackle next. However, I still have one more Mrs. Pollifax book to go. I hope to get to that this year.

    2. Oh yeah-that's the girl on the plane i think (sorry, it's been awhile, and I don't remember the order of the books)

      The race against time series was a young adult adventure series by JJ Fortune. I used to read (and still am) that. Another good 1980s adventure series was Micro Adventure. I think it is the first thing Megan Stine of Goosebumps wrote (she wrote a few of the books) Those were cool because they had programs you could type into your Commodore 64 and they'd really run! As much as I like the computers of today, they are too complex. Back then, a primary school kid like myself could design simple videogames (or at least input them)

      And if there are any kids reading this, the Commodore 64 was called that because it had 64k of RAM (Yes, Kilobytes)! And before you laugh, the system cost over $1000CAD back then, and had 10 times the processing power of the supercomputer that NASA had to put man on the moon in 1969 (that only had 6300 bytes of RAM)

    3. The interview with Dorothy Gilman is at the end of book 14 (Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled). I found it somewhat poignant in light of the fact that she was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimers.

  6. Thanks again for all your reviews!

  7. (found this blog entry via goodreads)

    Continuity error? Do tell! (I just listened to this, having read it initially 7 years ago.)

    I consider this a "cozy spy / intrigue" series, having only previously encountered the term "cozy" with reference to mysteries. One thing I appreciate about it, which you mention in your review, is how it is contemporary with respect to the political situation of the time. The series stretches from Cold War era concerns, through the hijacker terrorist era, and into Middle Eastern politics. But yet Emily only ages a few years :^)

    1. Welcome. Glad you found me via Goodreads.

      Farrell makes it sound like he was responsible for Mrs. Pollifax going to Africa and meeting Cyrus. He was in that book, but he wasn't really involved with getting her there in the first place. But it's a worth noting in passing kind of thing.