“Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asked.
She looked like a librarian. “Oh, just browsing,” I said.
“Have you ever read any of the Mrs. Pollifax novels?” She smiled like someone about to divulge a well-kept secret, pulled an audiobook off the shelf, and held it up for me to see.
The cover featured an old woman wearing a silly hat and looked like the kind of book this elderly woman would read and I wouldn’t. “No,” I said. “I haven’t.”
She looked delighted. “Well, they’re fabulous. You’ll love it.”
And before I could object she placed it in my hands. The decision was made. I was checking out The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. She was just too sweet and too pleasant to say no to. We talked briefly after that, and I learned that she was not, in fact, a librarian but an audiobook lover like me. I also came to the conclusion that she was a very lonely person and that a random conversation with a stranger in the library — even if that stranger happened to be someone as boring as uninteresting as myself — would be the highlight of her day.
I thanked her profusely for the recommendation, and we eventually went our separate ways. I didn’t get around to Mrs. Pollifax until recently. This polite willingness to accept the woman’s recommendation and listen to her book waned almost immediately after leaving the library; as soon as I got home, I put the book at the back of my audiobook queue and forgot about it. (I rip the audiobook off the CDs, put the MP3 files on my iPod, then erase the files when I’m done. That way I can listen to the book at my leisure and not worry about only listening to it in the car and missing library due dates).
Well I’ve now listened to The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax and I owe that sweet old lady a warm embrace. The book was as delightful as she had promised. I’ve already checked out the second one.
The story concerns one Emily Pollifax, an aged widow not altogether pleased with her life. She finds her meetings with the Garden Club and her time as a volunteer at the hospital rather dull. Then one morning she reads in the newspaper of a woman similar to her age who was just discovered on Broadway, and Mrs. Pollifax realizes that it’s never too late to pursue one’s dreams. What makes the story unique is that Mrs. Pollifax’s dream has always been to become a spy. And rather compulsively, on a whim, she decides to pursue this end with vigor. She contacts her local Congressman to get a meeting with the C.I.A. and then waltzes into the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia to offer up her services. She isn’t taken seriously of course, but by a happy accident of mistaken identity, Mrs. Pollifax is enlisted to be a simple C.I.A. courier on a special assignment to Mexico City. When that assignment goes sour, Mrs. Pollifax finds herself kidnapped by villainous enemies of the state and holed up in an Albanian prison.
What follows is an unexpectedly wonderful novel. Mrs. Pollifax is no super heroin. She knows no marshal arts and only has basic knowledge of handing a pistol. Her greatest weapon is her age. She’s just an honestly nice old woman, much like the woman who suggested this book to be.
The narration by Barbara Rosenblat is wonderful. She brings Mrs. Pollifax to life with an endearing sweetness, capturing that gentle, innocent timbre so often heard in the voice of the elderly. She can also pull of a nice Chinese, Russian, and Albanian accent, giving life to an assorted cast of spies, prison guards, and Albanian goat herders.
I’ve since learned that there are 14 Mrs. Pollifax novels, and while I may not get to them all, I’m certainly excited to follow Mrs. Pollifax on another charming adventure.