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The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax    by Dorothy Gilman order for
Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax
by Dorothy Gilman
Order:  USA  Can
Fawcett, 1992
Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A friend recently recommended both audiobooks and the Mrs. Pollifax mysteries to me, so I tried both together, listening to the Recorded Books unabridged version of the first (of thirteen) book in the series, narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I was very impressed by her ability to act the different vocal parts so that it was always clear which character spoke. I was also delighted with this first encounter with Mrs. Pollifax and plan to spend more time with this endearing grey-haired sleuth.

As the story opens, the sixty-something widow is depressed and unhappy with her lot, having concluded that the volunteer work in which she spends her days is over-regimented and requires nothing more than 'a good set of teeth'. Her doctor laughs when she mentions that she has always wanted to be a spy, but that is what she plans for a new career. She heads for Langley, Virginia and a meeting with a flabbergasted bureaucrat of the Central Intelligence Agency. A series of serendipitous accidents ends up in her obtaining employment as a tourist / CIA courier in Mexico.

Things do not go quite as planned, which Mrs. Pollifax would have realized sooner if she had paid more attention to the parrot. She ends up being captured by the Chinese along with the field agent whose data she was supposed to pick up. When the seasoned CIA director overseeing the case learns of it he fears that he has sent a 'lamb into a wolves' den'. But Emily Pollifax is no woolly lamb led to the slaughter. She is smart, observant and resourceful - an American Miss Marple sent out into the world of espionage - and she copes in her innocent and unexpected fashion, surprising the hard-bitten agent who is her companion in captivity.

Little did Mrs. Pollifax know when she wished for a little adventure back home that her travels would take her from New Brunswick, New Jersey to Mexico and Albania. There her friendly, helpful and innocent demeanour disguises from her captors the collection of tools (including a 'Christmas tree') to aid a most unexpected escape. This series gives us all a useful reminder not to judge by appearances, and that there may be a great deal more to sweet little old ladies than shows on the surface.

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