R.I.P. Dorothy Gilman, Creator of the Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax

Dorothy Gilman, credit Corey Lowenstein
The unexpected Dorothy Gilman / photo by Corey Lowenstein
It’s taken a few days to get around to writing this post. Some of the earliest mysteries I remember reading were the Mrs. Pollifax books. Why, you might very well ask, would a pre-teen be interested in the adventures of a sixty-or-so widow? Because Mrs. Pollifax was wonderful. I think the obituary from the New York Times describes her best:

[Mrs. Pollifax] is very likely the only spy in literature to belong simultaneously to the Central Intelligence Agency and the local garden club…

When the Mystery Writers of America made Dorothy Gilman their Grand Master in 2010, I remember thinking that they couldn’t have chosen anyone better. At any age or stage of life, a reader could find something her writing to enjoy.

Clever, lucky and naïvely intrepid, Mrs. Pollifax employs common sense and a little karate to rescue the kidnapped; aid the resistance (when you are a suburban lady spy, a fashionable hat is ideal for concealing forged passports); and engage in all manner of cheery deception (when doing business with a malefactor who is expecting a can of plutonium, a can of peaches makes an excellent if short-term substitute).

Mrs. Pollifax was not her only creation; Gilman also wrote stand-alone novels for both young and old. But Mrs. P. is the one who’s always held my heart.

Excuse me, I feel a reread coming on…


  1. Clare 2e

    I was the same age, about 5th grade or so, when I found my friend’s mom’s copies of Mrs. Pollifax stories. I loved them instantly. However, I recently reread …and the Hong Kong Buddha. I enjoyed it all over, and was struck as an adult by what a wonderful job Gilman did of writing the internal aftermath of violence. It wasn’t graphic, of course, but it was quite moving, embodying Mrs. P’s real disconnection as she struggled to reclaim her regular self after experiencing horrors. These books play on different levels depending upon the reader, and that’s a lasting credit to their creator. Thanks, Ms. Gilman!

  2. Becca Hollingsworth

    I was really sorry to see this at the New York Times when I was looking for something else. I loved all the Mrs Pollifax books, and read most of them more than once when I was in high school and college. Now that you mention it, I think I feel a reread coming on too!

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