Dorothy Gilman

Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle 

Emily Pollifax, white-haired grandmother, enjoys a sedate middle-class existence in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She grows geraniums. She wheels the book cart at the hospital. She bakes cookies for Sunday school. And in between these mundane pursuits, she acts as a courier for the CIA. (“About that quiet life you said you lead,” remarks a character in Mrs. Pollifax on Safari.)

Over the course of 14 novels, Mrs. P successfully extricates herself from touchy situations in China and Turkey, Mexico and Morocco, Sicily and Switzerland. Here she’s tramping around the hill country of northern Thailand—an area as dangerous for political unrest as for its opium trade—on the trail of her abducted husband. Her repertoire of magic tricks charms the small children of an Akha village, and the hill people salve her blisters so that she can continue on her quest, following the clues of discarded sardine wrappers and a dog-eared copy of Kipling’s Kim.

Gilman does a superb job of making the highly unlikely seem perfectly reasonable. Mrs. Pollifax got into this “sideline” in the first place as a result of mistaken identity (The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax), and her sweet little old lady appearance—think Miss Marple with a brown belt in karate—saves her life on numerous occasions; no one can believe she’s a spy. The stories are entertaining, well crafted, and populated with diverse and appealing characters—factory workers, university students, rug merchants, artists.

Meanwhile, back at CIA headquarters, Carstairs and Bishop joke about their amateur operative’s possible involvement in a massive narcotics raid. “Maybe that’s where Mrs. Pollifax was—maybe Emily lit the fire.”

Little do they know.

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