Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

I found an unexpected surprise when I picked up a copy of The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax at my local library. Published in 1966, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax is the first in a series of spy-mystery novels by Dorothy Gilman.

Honestly, I feel a little behind the times as this is a 40+ year old series and I'm only just now sitting down to read it. When I found the book I recalled the title vaguely from a conversation a friend and I had a few years back when she was reading the series. There are currently 14 books in the series, the most recent was published in 2000.

In the first book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, we meet 60-something year-old Emily Pollifax. Emily is a widow with grown children and grandchildren who live many states away and are busy with their own lives. Emily is involved in multiple charities and volunteer assignments, but is bored with life. "I can't help feeling I've outlived my usefulness," Emily tells her doctor during her annual check-up. It is the doctor's response that prompts Emily into action. "Is there anything in life you wanted to do, but have never done?" Of course the doctor probably is thinking of Emily traveling or taking up knitting some such hobby, but what immediately comes to Emily's mind is espionage. She has always wanted to be a secret agent... but hasn't. And so with this in mind she heads to Langley, VA to the CIA to volunteer her services as a spy for the United States of America. What results is very unexpected for Emily and for all involved.

I really enjoyed The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. I was expecting a mystery like Miss Marple, but instead found myself caught up in a story of adventure, mystery, and espionage. It was a little like Miss Marple meets Triple X (only less hard-core and less tough-guy). The characters were entertaining, the settings fascinating, and the story quick-moving, interesting, and relatively believable. I am definitely planning on continuing in the series and recommend to readers who are looking for a different kind of adventure/mystery/spy thriller to check this series out.

Although this first novel was written over 40 years ago there is something timeless about it that made it feel as if it could have come off the presses 40 days ago. I thought it might be fun to see this book adapted to the screen and was surprised and pleased to find a television adaptation was made in 1999 staring Angela Lansbury. I'm already partial to Lansbury because of her work as Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote (1984-1996) and also as Mrs. Ada 'Arris in the 1992 TV movie Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris. As I read The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax I thought she reminded me a tiny bit of Ada 'Arris as played by Lansbury... So what'd-ya-know!
Please note that while the book is very clean there is a minor amount of profanity, though nothing vulgar and it is kept in context with the "heat of the moment". While I did not find this offensive or distracting to the story, some readers may prefer to be warned.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax a 4. I really enjoyed it.


C said...

Thanks for the review, Sarah! I read the entire series a few years ago. (We may have even had a conversation about it.) I would add the note/warning to readers that as the series progresses Mrs. Pollifax develops an interest in eastern religions and adopts some of their philosophies. Whether it was this change or the natural tendency of series to lose some of their original freshness, I found the later books in the series to be less captivating, but still very good reads.

Mary Beth said...

I love the Mrs. Pollifax book - she's one of my go-to reads when I'm at odds with the world and nothing else works. Besides, I've always wanted to be a spy, from the comfort of my armchair:)

Carrie said...

I LOVE these books. I've read the first 3 or 4, I think and have the next few on the shelf awaiting attention. At any rate, I think these books are just plain fun!

hopeinbrazil said...

I was very happy to discover these books in our school library a few years ago. I agree with "C" that the later books were less satisfying, but I enjoyed all of them. The movie was fun too.

Alyce said...

This book sounds like so much fun! I vaguely remember hearing about the series at some point, so it's nice to be reminded.

russedav said...

Also note the first Rosalind Russell version, 1971,

Lansbury is of course VERY fine, but there's something about Russell that can't be denied, one/two of my favorites of hers being The Trouble With Angels/Where Angels Go Trouble Follows with Haley Mills
Russ Davis