The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman

While browsing through a stack of battered paperbacks at a used book sale, I was delighted to run across a very old copy of Dorothy Gilman's The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. I had read it—and loved it—as a kid, but I had concerns about how well it would hold up, and felt that a $1 copy in readable condition was the perfect way for me to revisit the story.

As a widow with grown children, Mrs Emily Pollifax is desperately bored. When her doctor, concerned about her increasing depression, encourages her to look for a new hobby, Emily takes his suggestion to heart. She travels to DC to offer herself as a CIA agent, and—thanks to a series of implausible coincidences—actually gets hired. Her first mission sounds simple: travel to Mexico City, spend three weeks as an ordinary tourist, pick up a package, fly home. When the job goes south, her CIA handler is appalled to think he has sent this sweet grandmother into danger. But both he and America's enemies are about to discover that they are dealing with a remarkably resourceful woman.

The book is obviously a product of its time, but it has worn well. There's some period-typical racial stereotyping, but Mrs. Pollifax is a curious and respectful heroine, eager to learn more from the various people that she meets. (I was actually more dismayed by the ageism. Mrs. Pollifax is only in her mid-sixties, but she feels like she is 100% out to pasture.) The action sequences are enthralling and the characters memorable. I strongly recommend taking this book on a plane: it's clever and entertaining, and features a woman who is the furthest thing from James Bond, but handles herself just fine regardless.
Posted by: Julianka


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