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Books on Wheels

July 25, 2002

Yesterday, I finished listening to The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, the second book in the series by Dorothy Gilman following the adventures of a widow who goes to work for the CIA in her old age (well, in her 60’s, which is not as old as it used to be). Earlier this summer, I listened to the first book in the series, and it was about time, since I’d already heard some of the later books. They’re good car books: not too challenging, so I can follow the plot while still paying attention to the road, but with enough mystery and suspense that I stay interested. They’re also short enough that I can usually finish one in a week of commuting, just in time to return it to the library on my Saturday morning visits. That it’s a series is also a plus, since I don’t have to learn all the main characters every time I put a new book in the tape player. I listen to The Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun for the same reasons.

One thing I like about the Mrs. Pollifax books, especially these first ones, is how they take me into an earlier version of the modern world. The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax was written in 1970 or thereabouts, and the characters go about their business without so much of the technology I’ve come to rely on, and sometimes be annoyed by, in my present day existence. In the books, people are always cabling each other and having to drive miles to find a phone and feeling very lucky to find a printed airline schedule or some other piece of information. It all seems so quaint. Frustrating sometimes, but quaint. I also like that Mrs. Pollifax is a mild-mannered old lady who nevertheless manages to thrive in dangerous situations, including using karate on the bad guys. I hope to be that capable and cool in my dotage.

With The Cat Who books, I like the later ones better, even though they’re less believable. I like to daydream about what I’d do if I were in the main character’s position after the major life change that brings him to live in a summer resort area in the northern Great Lakes. I have a hard time buying into some of the things that go on there, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never lived in similar place. Maybe the tourists really do bring their intrigue and murderous instincts with them from the big city.

The Jack Higgins book I listened to recently, Day of Reckoning, which I picked from the library shelves because it was a short thriller with a compelling cover picture, is evidently part of a series, too. Not realizing this, I was somewhat peeved when the guy I thought was the main character was sidelined for great stretches of the book. If I’d known who the continuing character was, I’d have been much less distracted. I’m not sure if I’ll seek out others in the series. He did write a couple strong and smart female characters, which is always a plus, but there were also quite a lot of explosions and gun battles, which are not really my style.

This morning, I started listening to Cold Mountain, taking a break from the short novels and series novels that have made up my recent selections. So far, I like it. I figure it’s good to listen to a serious novel every now and then, even if it is a popular one that’s going to be made into a movie.

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