Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

Towards the end of her Murder, She Wrote run, Angela Lansbury starred in the movie, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. Naturally, I saw the movie then tracked down the book. I've done that many times, watched the movie then read the book. The first was The Moonspinners, movie with Hayley Mills and book by Mary Stewart and I love them both. I learned very early to separate the two or I would never be happy with either one. I just now finished The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. I can't even remember when I had begun the book, but then life happened and other books called my attention. Nonetheless, I finally finished the book.

Overall, it's not a bad a read. Enter Mrs. Pollifax, widowed, retired and depressed. She doesn't have a husband to take care, no job to go to, no children to raise, and the Garden Club she belongs to can only fill so many hours of the week. In order to seek meaning into her life, she approaches the CIA. Naturally, the CIA decides to humor her. But like the comedies I dearly love, Carstairs stumbles upon her, thinking she's already an agent. It appears he's got a dilemma on his hands and needs an agent posing as a tourist as late as yesterday. Mrs. Pollifax fits the bill perfectly, down to her silly little hat. Off she goes to Mexico to pick up a book. Simple, right? That part's simple, but there's just a minor cog in the wheel. Apparently, the other spies got wind of this operation and step in to find the microfilm. When they don't find the microfilm in the bookstore (where the transaction will take place), they decide to kidnap Mrs. Pollifax and another agent, Farrell, and make them give up the information. But a lady doesn't raise her husband, two children and live to the ripe age she has without learning a trick or two. Mrs. Pollifax proves her resourcefulness and surprises the CIA by being an unexpected agent.

Gilman did a wonderful job creating Mrs. Pollifax and her surroundings, from Mexico to Albania. Written during the Cold War (originally published in 1966), Gilman's scenario seems highly probable as the Russians and Chinese battle over Albania with Mrs. Pollifax thrown in the middle. Viewed as the elderly lady she is, Mrs. Pollifax is not determined to be a threat so they don't keep a close eye on her. This is fortunate for her because she's able to amass some information and plots a daring escape for herself, Farrell and the prisoner next door. During the escape, Mrs. Pollifax brings in her experience as a person and her resourcefulness to get them to safety.

Mrs. Pollifax is a grandmother I would love to have, especially if she could tell me her stories. She's a determined woman, whose sunny disposition helps her out of the jams she manages to fall into. She has an endless courage that allows her to push on when she thinks she can't go further and loyalty which endears her to her allies (Farrell and the other prisoners) and her captors. I look forward to reading more in the series.


hamilcar barca said...

But like the comedies I dearly love, Carstairs stumbles upon her, thinking she's already an agent.

just wondering - is this book primarily a comedy, or an action/thriller?

Christina said...

It's an action/thriller. In the comedies I like to watch, there's always a mix up, usually the female thinks the male is someone else, when he's only pretending to be that person, such as Pillowtalk or Lover Come Back both with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Though Day did do a spoof spy movie, The Glassbottom Boat where the people she works for thinks she's a spy, but she's not.

hamilcar barca said...

hmmm. an action/thriller with a non-typical hero, and (i'm assuming) some wit and humor to boot.

that seems like an excellent combination, and it doesn't even sound like it's chick-fic. but i gather you were able to "put it aside" for quite some time. so perhaps it doesn't live up to its potential?

Christina said...

Some wit, but very light on it, and really no humor. It's definitely not chick-fic, unless it's for the over-60 crowd.

The book lives up to its potential. I started reading it, then became very sick for a long while so my attention was elsewhere. When I got better, I had to focus on getting my life back together. Reading fell to the bottom of the list for some time.