Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, by Dorothy Gilman

June 29, 2023 Book Reviews 8 ★★★½

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, by Dorothy GilmanMrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish by Dorothy Gilman
Published by Fawcett on Kindle: June 30, 2020 (orig. published 1990)
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 229
Format: Kindle or ebook
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible | Chirp
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Also by this author: The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, The Clairvoyant Countess, Thale's Folly

All Mrs. Pollifax has to do is to masquerade as the aunt of an inept CIA representative while he confirms the identities of seven undercover agents in Morocco—and keep him from making an unpleasant ass of himself. Immediately, things go horribly wrong. The first informant is murdered minutes after Mrs. Pollifax and her companion identify him in his brassware stall in Fez. Worse, she senses that her colleague is not who—or what—he says he is.

With no one to bail her out, Mrs. Pollifax determines to outfox the enemy and check out the remaining informants on her own. Only Mrs. Pollifax would expose herself to the dangers of being an American and a woman alone in Morocco. And only she would forge ahead, knowing as she does that one of the original informants has been replaced by a deadly imposter...

Mrs. Pollifax in Morocco

I love the Mrs. Pollifax novels, but this one didn’t quite measure up to the early ones for me. Gilman’s descriptions of Morocco are lovely, and Emily Pollifax herself is always a delight. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t allow Mrs. Pollifax or the reader to settle in with a set of characters for quite some time, so the book lost some of what makes the series so wonderful: the sundry characters Gilman portrays with such perception and compassion. There is very little opportunity for Mrs. Pollifax to exercise her ability to build connection with a wide variety of people, at least in the first half of the book. That is unavoidable due to the nature of the plot, but it was a bit disappointing. The second half of the book was more satisfying in that regard.

Also on the plus side, I now have a slightly better understanding of the geography and geopolitic relationships of Morocco, Western Sahara, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. (As in, I was only vaguely familiar with the area geographically, and completely ignorant of the Polisarios’ territorial dispute with Morocco before reading this book; I looked at maps and read up on the territorial dispute after I read it.)

Another minor disappointment was the ending, which feels both rushed and abrupt or unfinished, in ways I can’t go into detail about without spoilers. It really needs either another chapter or an epilogue to wrap things up. The current ending would work fine in a different type of book, but it’s stylistically inconsistent with the endings of most of the earlier books in the series.

As far as I can tell, this the first time I have read Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish. I have read all the other Mrs. Pollifax mysteries at least once, but this one never felt familiar to me, except in the ways that any unread book in a well-known series feels familiar. And while I always enjoy spending a few hours with the redoubtably Mrs. Pollifax, this novel has left me a little unsatisfied. I think I’ll go reread some of the earlier (and to my mind, better) books in the series.

Challenges: The Backlist Reader Challenge 2023; COYER Upside Down, Chapt. 2


About Dorothy Gilman

Author photo: Dorothy Gilman

Dorothy Gilman (1923–2012) was an American novelist, best known for her bestselling series of mystery/spy novels featuring Mrs. Pollifax. Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to minister James Bruce and Essa (Starkweather) Gilman, Dorothy showed an interest in writing from an early age, and won a story contest at age 11. She married teacher Edgar A. Butters, Jr., in 1945; they had two sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1965.

Dorothy worked as an art teacher & telephone operator before becoming an author in the late 1940s. She wrote children’s stories for more than ten years under the name Dorothy Gilman Butters. Her first adult novel, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966), stars a most unlikely spy: a retired grandmother who, bored with her ordinary life, decides to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a spy. Engaged as a CIA courier by mistake, Mrs. Pollifax soon finds herself well out of her depth, but relies on her common sense, determination, and optimism — not to mention grit — to see her through. The book was a success, and became the start of a 14-book series; the final book was published in 2000.

Gilman wrote several other adult novels, including two featuring the psychic Madame Karitska (The Clairvoyant Countess and Kaleidescope), The Nun in the Closet, and Thale’s Folly. She also wrote a memoir of the years she spent living along in a small house on the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia, titled A New Kind of Country.

(Sources: Wikipedia; Goodreads)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Upside-Down 2023: Chapter 2
  • The Backlist Reader Challenge 2023

8 Responses to “Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, by Dorothy Gilman”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I would definitely read them in order, starting with The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. They’re comfort reads for me; I really love the first six. After that, I wasn’t quite as into them.

  1. Katherine

    This was probably my least favorite Mrs. Pollifax so far (I’m one book past this) and for the exact reasons you mention. I did like the history and information on Morocco but it felt a bit hectic.

  2. Mark

    I can’t argue with your review. It will always have a soft spot in my heart because it was my introduction to the character. For my money, 1,2,4, and 5 are the best in the series. Not that there aren’t fun books later on, but they don’t measure up to those four.
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    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      She’s such a marvellous character, isn’t she? And it’s not a bad book; it just suffers a little in comparison with the first six, which are my favorites.