Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #7)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: A mostly fun trip to 1985 Hong Kong with a great character
Cons: Dark and abrupt ending
The Bottom Line
Weak and dark ending
To an otherwise fun book
With great characters

Mrs. Pollifax Reunites with Two Friends

I was in college when I stumbled on Mrs. Pollifax, grandmother, widow, garden club member, and part time CIA agent.  The stories are light spy capers, most of the time.  It’s been a couple of years since I reread any of the books, but I decided to revisit this old friend recently with Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, and it reminded me why I enjoy this series so much.

The biggest thing on newlywed Mrs. Pollifax’s mind is making sure the contractor installs the bay window in her new home slightly off center.  But then Bishop from the CIA pulls into the driveway and her whole world changes again.  Seems that a young man she helped smuggle out of China a year ago is working at a shop in Hong Kong where another CIA agent has been placed, but that agent’s reports have grown useless.  Carstairs, Bishop’s boss, wants Mrs. Pollifax to make contact and figure out what exactly is happening.

But as is always the case with Mrs. Pollifax, things soon spiral out of control, and it starts when she runs into an old friend from a previous assignment.  Then the man she met on the plane stumbles into her room with a wound on his head.  Slowly, she suspects that her assignment is leading to something much bigger.  But just what is it?

Mrs. Pollifax lives in a world all her own.  This book, the seventh in the series, was written and is set in 1985.  Yet she seems to have hardly aged from when we met her in 1966.  The set up requires a healthy dose of coincidence, like the man on the plane becoming a big part of the story.  And yet the character is charming enough that it really doesn’t matter.

This is one of the rare times that a character from a previous book reenters the series, and we get two of them.  (And I am being vague on who on purpose because I don’t want to spoil the joyful surprise.)  One is pretty much a supporting character, but the other plays a big part in the story, and I was delighted to see him again.  Also along for the ride is Mrs. Pollifax’s new husband, Cyrus, who really doesn’t show up until the end.  Unfortunately, Bishop disappears after the first chapter and Carstairs never even appears.

That means that this is Mrs. Pollifax’s show as usual, and that’s a good thing.  Her earlier naivete is still there, but she has learned from her previous assignments and is smart enough to logically figure out a big piece of the puzzle on her own.  I love spending time with her, and smile most of the time as I read one of these books.  The rest of the characters in the story are just as delightful, except obviously the villains, but we don’t spend that much time around them.

The story gets going fairly quickly, and after the initial dose of coincidence wears off, things flow logically from one point to another.  The book is only 217 pages, and there is very little wasted space.

My problem with the book comes at the end.  The last quarter or so are darker than normal for a Mrs. Pollifax book (although not as dark as the next in the series).  And the climax doesn’t quite work for me.  It’s like the author didn’t quite know how to wrap things up.  She tries to explain things logically, but it doesn’t hold together like climaxes in the series usually do.

Complaints aside, I do still enjoy Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha.  It’s not my favorite in the series, but it’s certainly a fun trip with a good friend.

You'll enjoy seeing this characters more if you go back and read the Mrs. Pollifax Series in order.

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