The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman (audiobook review)

September 26, 2012 Book Reviews 0 ★★★★½

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman (audiobook review)The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman
Series: Mrs. Pollifax #2
Published by Recorded Books on 1989 (book first published by Fawcett, December 1, 1970)
Genres: Cozy Mystery, Espionage
Format: Audiobook
Source: the library
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble
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Also by this author: The Clairvoyant Countess, Thale's Folly, Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish

When Emily Pollifax answers the phone that Sunday morning, she quickly forgets all about her Garden Club tea that afternoon. For the voice on the other end belonged to a man she had never seen, a man from the CIA who asked her if she could leave immediately on a mission that would take her halfway across the world! What could Mrs. Pollifax say but yes?


I’ve been a Mrs. Pollifax fan for a long time, so when I saw that our public library had some of Dorothy Gilman’s delightful mystery series in audio format, I wanted to give them a try.  I enjoy audiobooks when I’m doing housework, knitting, or running errands.  Listening to a book with which I’m already familiar means I don’t have to worry if my attention wanders for a few moments… for instance, while counting stitches.

Mrs. Pollifax is an elderly (these days, we might say late middle-aged) woman who keeps busy with her Garden Club, volunteering at the local hospital, her karate class, and a little spying on the side.  In the first book, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, she walks into the CIA to volunteer as a spy, where covert operations chief Carstairs accidentally gives her a courier assignment: travel to Mexico as a tourist, and pick up a package from a bookstore owner.  The operation goes spectacularly wrong, and Mrs. Pollifax finds herself imprisoned in Albania.  Being Mrs. Pollifax, she immediately turns her ingenuity to figuring out an escape plan.

The Mrs. Pollifax novels are entertaining, exciting, and often quite funny.  Although Mrs. Pollifax has been compared to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the two have little in common beyond their age (well over 50) and a certain aptitude for seeing past surface appearances.  Mrs. Pollifax is far more adventurous, and her exploits involve much more travel than Miss Marple usually undertakes.  Miss Marple has a vague, fluttery exterior which belies her razor-sharp mind.*  Mrs. Pollifax is more definite (dare I say, more American?) in appearance and behavior, though her ability to, as Carstairs puts it, sustain the role of innocent and sometimes aggrieved tourist is invaluable in her work for the CIA.

In The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Carstairs once again calls on Mrs. Pollifax.  This time, she will be traveling to Turkey to aid a defecting Communist agent — who is really a Western double agent.  When everything goes wrong, it’s up to Mrs. Pollifax and her young friend Colin Ramsey to save the day.

This reading of The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax is quite good.  The narrator, Barbara Rosenblat, is adept with accents and voices; each major character has an individual voice.  I’m not enough of an expert to know whether the Turkish and gypsy accents were accurate, but the educated English accent used for several characters was reasonably good for an American audience (though it probably wouldn’t convince a British audience.)  The characterization was equally solid; many of the characters’ inflections sounded just the way I “hear” them in my head.

I enjoyed this reading enough to want to seek out the rest of the series in audiobook format, provided they are performed by the same voice actor.  I’d recommend this series to those who enjoy light mystery and/or light spy novels.



* I mean no disparagement of Miss Marple, of whom I am even more fond than I am of Mrs. Pollifax.  (See my post on Agatha Christie.)


NOTE: The audiobook CDs are no longer available, but you can get the same recording through Audible.  Other buy links are for the paperback edition.


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)

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