Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish by Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax #9)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Mrs. Pollifax is back in top form
Cons: Some descriptive passages might slow things down, but never for very long
The Bottom Line:
Morocco danger
Mrs. P. back in top form
Fun on ev’ry page

Mrs. Pollifax Races Across Morocco

While I try my best to read a series in order, I go for the sampling approach when it comes to book on tape (now CD).  I’ll take whatever my library has available when I’m ready to take a trip.  So it was that, back in 1996, I made Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish my introduction to the series.  Did I like it?  Well, I read the first five books in the series that summer.

If you haven’t met Mrs. Pollifax, she’s a grandmother, widow, garden club member, and part time CIA agent.  As crazy as it sounds, she is very good at it, using her determination and resourcefulness to get herself and her companions out of some wild situations.

The series was written over the course of roughly 35 years.  While Mrs. Pollifax ages a year or two, every book is set in the world stage when it is set.  This book originally came out in 1990, and it finds the focus shifting to northern Africa and a post Cold War world.

It’s a gloomy January day, and Mrs. Pollifax is feeling depressed.  More than anything, she’s wishing for an assignment from Carstairs.  And just then, Bishop calls asking if she is available.  They have an agent all set to journey through Morocco visiting seven members of a spy chain they have making sure that none of them have been replaced by an imposter.  But something about the agent’s picture doesn’t sit right with Carstairs, so he wants Mrs. Pollifax to go along and help smooth any rough edges.

When Mrs. Pollifax arrives, she is not met at the airport and finds her co-agent most disagreeable.  They identify the first agent in the network, but he is dead within the hour.  Can Mrs. Pollifax trust her co-agent?  Will she get out alive?

The previous couple of books in the series are some of the weakest.  They grow a little dark and Mrs. Pollifax seems to lose some of her spunk.  But she’s back in top form here.  While there is plenty of danger and suspense, I found myself laughing at a few of her lines and observations as the book progressed.  And her resourcefulness is back, too.  Yes, she loses it occasionally, but who wouldn’t given all that takes place in the book.

Don’t let the 200 plus page size fool you – there is a lot packed into this book.  That means the story is always moving forward.  Plus we get a few twists along the way.  And we get some classic scenes back at CIA headquarters as Carstairs and Bishop have to react to half the story and try to help blindly from half way around the world.  I always enjoy those.

Along the way, we also get a look at the culture and the political situation at the time.  At least I assume it is accurate – I’ve never researched to see how much was fact and how much was fiction to help the story along.  Anyway, there are some descriptions of the countryside that Mrs. Pollifax is passing through and the towns and villages she visits.  It’s never enough to really slow things down and it gives us a real sense of place, something I have always loved about these books.

The downside of this series is that there are few recurring characters.  But author Dorothy Gilman always makes up for it with a new batch of charming friends and dastardly foes in every book.  This is no exception.  By the time you reach the end, you’ll love many of them.

So, do I recommend you jump in here like I did?  Actually, no.  While you certainly could (I did after all) there are more than the occasional vague reference to past adventures.  A character from the last book actually plays a part in this story, so it’s best read in order.  So travel back to the late 1960’s and The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax to find out how her adventures began.

If you do, you’ll fall under the spell of Mrs. Pollifax and be reading Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish before you know it.  I will always be thankful for this book since it introduced me to the delightful series.

Looking for even more adventures?  You'll find them in the Mrs. Pollifax Series in order.

This review is part of Friday's Forgotten Books.  Follow the link to see what else people are reading.


  1. I've never been particularly drawn to mysteries with old ladies in them, but as I get closer to being one, I might be softening my stance. Thanks for the review.

    1. Old ladies who act like old ladies are one thing. But Mrs. Pollifax is anything but your normal old lady.

  2. The Mrs. Pollifax series remains one of my favorites. Thanks for writing about Mrs. P. And I agree, starting at the beginning of the series is best--the first book makes it much easier to accept that Mrs. P. does what she does,and does it so well.

    1. I bought it the first time around, but I think seeing how it began and why Carstairs trusts her so much is important.

  3. "The previous couple of books in the series are some of the weakest. They grow a little dark and Mrs. Pollifax seems to lose some of her spunk. But she’s back in top form here."

    I love this series, but that is exactly how I feel about Whirling Dervish and the books immediately preceding it.

    Thanks for the link to Friday's Forgetten Books (as if I needed another meme to follow! But I love re-reading old favorites, and I've missed that as I've started receiving more and more ARCs.)

    1. I don't get that many ARCs, but it seems I always have some new books I want to read. It does make it hard to go back and reread old friends, doesn't it?