Mrs. Pollifax: An Unexpected Heroine

The first novel in this quirky mystery series, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, introduces us to sixty-three year old Emily Pollifax who is suffering from a mixture of depression and ennui. She sits with her doctor in his office after a routine check-up and reflects on her life: she is not just bored; she is deeply disillusioned with her widowed, empty-nest, superficial life to the point of entertaining suicidal thoughts.  Mrs. Pollifax needs something more, so she approaches the CIA, showing up unexpectedly to their offices in Langley, Virginia in her flowered hat to offer her services as a spy.

I love the unlikely scenario – only the beginning of many more hilariously ridiculous situations in which Mrs. Pollifax lands.  She is never silly, however.  As she travels the globe, her innate goodness, resourcefulness, and bravery inspire the reader in every one of the fourteen Mrs. Pollifax adventures.
Mrs. PollifaxThe Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, published in 1966, is set mostly in Mexico and gives the modern-day reader a fascinating look back at Cold War espionage.

Surprisingly, the best review I found on this series was by a young man in his mid-thirties who claims to love the first book “immensely”:

“What I love most of all is the character of Mrs. Pollifax. Adventure stories – especially those of the time period in which this book was written – are usually the domain of the strong, dapper young male adventurer… sometimes there’s a young female heroine as well (though she’s usually more of a damsel in distress than anything else). But there are very few – VERY few – decent, strong roles for an older woman in an adventure story, and every few sentences I wanted to pump my fist in the air, or hug Dorothy Gilman, for writing not only an unforgettable story but a totally AWESOME role for an older female adventurer…The world needs more characters like Mrs. Pollifax – but at the same time, she is so special and endearing that there could never be anybody else like her.” Jesse Miller–Riley

This mystery series offers an unexpected turn of events in a budding romance introduced in book five, Mrs. Pollifax on Safari. Widower Cyrus Reed meets Emily Pollifax while he is on safari in Africa and finds himself putting himself in danger for her sake; although she is the one who knows karate and frees them from their captors:
“Oh, if only there were some way to free our hands!“

”What then?“ he asked, looking at her with amusement.

”Well, you see I’m rather good at karate.“

This startled him but there was no overlooking his gleeful appreciation of this. ‘Damned astonishing woman,’ he said.”

This series offers surprises, no doubt. Thank you, Dorothy Gilman for Mrs. Pollifax who shows me that dreams never die.

To date, two movies have been made from the series: the feature film “Mrs. Pollifax – Spy” (1971) starring Rosalind Russell, and the telefilm “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax” (1999), starring Angela Lansbury.

The series in order of publication: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966),The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax (1970), The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax (1971), A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax (1973), Mrs. Pollifax on Safari (1976), Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station (1983), Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha (1985), Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle (1988), Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish (1990), Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief (1993), Mrs. Pollifax Pursued (1995), Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer (1996), Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (1997), Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled (2000). The Audiobooks voiced by Barbara Rosenblat are recommended by others, though I have yet to try them.
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According to the author’s obituary in The New York Times, Dorothy Edith Gilman was born in New Brunswick, N.J., in June, 1923 and died in February, 2012 at the age of 88. She decided on a writing career when she was still a child. Planning to write and illustrate books for children, she studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Her writing career spanned many decades.

Categories: Humorous, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Mrs. Pollifax: An Unexpected Heroine

  1. I read this then immediately logged onto the library system and ordered a Mrs. Pollifax book. Can’t wait to be introduced. This and several other books you listed look like great potential reads for my book club. Thanks!

    • Wonderful! Let me know how you like what you try from my list! Brat Farrar, City of Tranquil Light, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are my top three picks from what I have promoted on the blog.

  2. Wendy

    Just picked one of these up from the YMCA Thrift store. I read the first one years ago and its nice to find her again. Sadly, our libraries have sold off all of her books and they are hard to find. I know our little library doesn’t have room for everything but I turned in a book I didn’t finish recently of letters went back for it and it was no longer on file!! It was a beauty too (Stillmeadow & Sugarbridge).

    Also reading Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts (treats from classic children’s books) 🙂

    • You are a treasure trove, Wendy! I commiserate with your library experience; ur local system will pull books that are not borrowed frequently enough (their formula)… Thus, we are important, you and I to bring attention to great reads that are not heavily marketed!

  3. I enjoy this series so much, sorry I only have 3 more, and then it’s over. I highly highly recommend the audiobooks, all read by Barbara Rosenblat, SUPERB! cannot imagine Emily Pollifax with any other voice.

  4. I love Mrs. Pollifax! Probably even more now that I’m almost her age! 😉

  5. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the first book in this series. Angela Lansbury does a great job in the movie, which I happened to catch on Brazilian TV one afternoon.

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