The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

Writing about this The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax is a treat. Mrs. Pollifax is an absolutely delightful character. A widow in her sixties, she performs all of the appropriate activities of her station: she belongs to a gardening club, performs volunteer work, and visits with others. In her appearance, she fits the stereotypical grandmother who loves hats with large flowers. She finds her life utterly boring.

This book was written and takes place in the early 1960’s. Throughout the series of books (written over a 35-40 year period), Mrs. Pollifax manages to never age (kind of like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew) despite the fact that the years progress and the villains change with the times. In this first book of the series, Mrs. Pollifax decides to do the one thing that she has always wanted to do. She decides to become a spy. She takes a bus to Langley, which was the brand new headquarters of the CIA when the book was written, and applies to become a spy for her country. It discourages her when Carstairs (her new boss) told her that he would not send her into dangerous situations. Mrs. Pollifax had hoped that she could die for her country.

At this point, the book takes off in beautiful form. All of the characters are predominantly flat, but this works well for the series. The characters are stereotypes that lend to a great deal of humor. This series tends to be more humorous than suspenseful. In a sense, the book is an adventure/thriller, but it really should be labeled a comedy. Mrs. Pollifax begins working for the CIA as a courier. Her first assignment is to be a tourist in Mexico City for three weeks. During her last week, she would go to a bookstore on a certain day and pick up a special package. Of course, the hand off goes awry and Mrs. Pollifax finds herself at the mercy of unknown killers. From that point, Mrs. Pollifax is taken half way around the world and hidden away in a secret prison. Communist Albania is a tough place from which to escape….

Whether Mrs. Pollifax is fighting the Red Chinese in the 1960’s or Muslim terrorists in the 1990’s, she travels the world making friends and changing people one person at a time. She exasperates professional spies and evil dictators. Who suspects a little elderly woman of being a devious and conniving spy? She inspires democracy and freedom in communist countries and supports women’s rights in Muslim countries. This is a charming series of books. One note: the book would be rated PG for mild profanity. It is a shame, because the language is the only detractor from the book. I have read four books in this series and all were equally well written and enjoyable.


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