Oh, Mrs. Pollifax, you were so unexpected.
Am I the only person who gets kind of excited when they get to the library and the book they're looking for looks like this?
Because I do. I would pretty much never pick a book like this randomly off the shelf, but when I get interested in a title and I find a book like this, I get some sort of nostalgic enthusiasm for an old-fashioned library binding. I think it helps that this kind of cover is nearly indestructible--I am hard on library books.
What I wanted to write about today was old people rocking out, because Mrs. Pollifax is almost as delightful as Dr. Siri Paiboun, although they are on entirely opposite sides on the issue of communism and the red menace. Dr. Siri, as my faithful readers know, is the national coroner of communist Laos in the late 1970s, and he's too old to put up with any of the bull that comes with the politbureau. His "I'm old, so you can bite me" schtick has been one of my favorites for a long time, and I have Colin Cotterill's newest one waiting for me on my Kindle--The Woman Who Wouldn't Die.
This came up, though, because of Mrs. Pollifax. And it turns out, what I really want to do is talk about Mrs. Pollifax, and get all gooey over her and love her sass and her bravado and how she just gets things done by distracting the guards with her sensible wiles. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax is a treasure, and thank you Sarah (and, of course, Dorothy Gilman) for her.
(Note that this cover is not nearly as tempting as the mysterious green library binding you see photographed above.)
Mrs. Pollifax is widowed and retired, and she's pretty tired of the garden club and hospital aid society. So she takes the bull by the horns, takes a trip to Washington, DC, and offers her services to the CIA as a spy. Through a plausible if unlikely turn of events, it comes to pass, and Mrs. Pollifax is sent to Mexico to pick up a very important MacGuffin. It's not too much of a spoiler to let you know that things don't go according to plan, and Mrs. Pollifax finds herself behind the Iron Curtian and dependent on her wits and good nature to get her out of a distinctly risky scrape.
She's a charmer. It seems unlikely to me that she's going to end up with the chief gentleman in the story, since she's 30 years his senior and the book was written in the '60s, but I'm still holding out hope, because they have a lovely rapport. She's got the guards telling her their troubles and she fixed the Major's back. She's not fearless, but she's moved beyond her fear--she's lived her life, and now she's doing something important, and if she's going to die doing it, well, that's all right, too.
At one point, she walks into a room and then realizes that there might easily have been an ambush set up for her. She makes a mental note to be more cunning. The one wrinkle I find in the book is that the All-American characters often talk like Brits, saying they'll "jolly well" do this or that the other thing is "a rum job, what?" Dorothy Gilman--dear, lovely Dorothy Gilman, who has written many other books that Sarah now loves (one about NUNS!!!)--was from Nova Scotia, and she may have learned how Americans talk from such non-Americans as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.
Mrs. Pollifax is not a dense book, nor a long one. It may even be called slight. But it is so desperately charming. And now I find myself wanting to read other books in which elderly people don't give a damn. Anyone have any nominees? I'm thinking Miss Marple will be a start. But I'm taking nominations. But I suspect Mrs. Pollifax and Dr. Siri are going to take the prize.