Tribute to Mystery Author Dorothy Gilman 1923 – 2012

Mar 3, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 3, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at The Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street in Manhattan. Gilman passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s.

Writers come to the craft at all ages and stages of life. Dorothy Gilman began to write at age nine. At eleven, she entered a contest and won over writers aged ten through sixteen. In 2010, she won another award—the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master.

Gilman studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In the 1940s, she wrote children’s books under her married name, Dorothy Gilman Butters. When the marriage ended in divorce, Gilman moved to a coastal village in Nova Scotia. Her only non-fiction book, A New Kind of Country, (1991) tells her story of late in life self-discovery.

Mrs. Pollifax books

She is best known for the Mrs. Pollifax mystery/spy series. Mrs. Pollifax is a widow who volunteers and joins but feels her life lacks excitement and purpose. She does what any sixty-ish woman would do—she volunteers to be a CIA agent. Through a misunderstanding, she gets her wish. With her outlandish hats, grandmotherly appearance and common sense, she foils the plots of those who would do evil to the world, as she travels to Mexico, Albania, China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Africa. Along the way, she meets Cyrus Reed and in a move more daring than any of her spy adventures, marries again.

Gilman’s books feature strong, older female characters who rely on good sense, experience, and ingenuity to get out of one predicament after another, all to a good end. Crime doesn’t pay in Gilman’s world. With a minimum of violence, these cozy mysteries have entertained for over forty years. While the books can be read out of order, it’s best to start at the beginning and read through book fourteen so you can see how characters met in one book, appear in another.

Mrs. Pollifax—Spy starring Rosalind Russell (1971) and a made for television movie, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, (1999) starring Angela Lansbury, brought Mrs. Pollifax to the big screen. As in so many cases, neither did the books justice.

Non-series books

The Tightrope Walker introduces Amelia Jones whose life is regimented and regulated until she buys an old hurdy-gurdy and reads a note that’s jamming the playing mechanism. “They’re going to kill me soon” opens Amelia’s life to new discoveries, including Joe. Dare she fall in love? Experience says no, Joe says yes. Tracing the note back in time, Amelia is able to discover murderers, mayhem, and happiness beyond her imagination.

A Nun in the Closet once again brings sheltered women into a world they don’t understand—but then, the world doesn’t understand them either. The order has inherited a house from a mysterious benefactor and Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe are sent to investigate. A wounded man, a suitcase full of money and bumps in the night are only some of the challenges and puzzles they face.

Uncertain Voyage sends the fragile Melissa Aubrey on a cruise to Europe following her failed marriage and nervous breakdown. She agrees, against better judgment to deliver a package for a mysterious stranger. As in many of Gilman’s characters, Melissa finds strength she never knew possible to save not just her own life, but the lives of others.

The Clairvoyant Countess
introduces us to Madame Karitska, former countess, currently living in a “changing” neighborhood—meaning poor but eclectic. When Alison Bartlett is found murdered in her home, police Lt. Pruden finds himself in the odd position of asking a clairvoyant’s help.

Kaleidoscope is the second, and sadly, last Madame Karitska book. Madame Karitska is not typical in any way—Gilman avoids the gimmick and focuses on quirky characters and plot twists you won’t see coming.

Gilman’s books entertain, take you on trips around the world, and introduce you to characters you wish you could meet in person. She left us with a writer’s greatest desire—we wanted more.

Mrs. Pollifax books

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966) aka Mrs. Pollifax, Spy
The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax (1970)
The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax (1971)
A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax (1973)
Mrs. Pollifax on Safari (1976)
Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station (1983)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha (1985)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle (1988)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish (1990)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief (1993)
Mrs. Pollifax Pursued (1995)
Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer (1996)
Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (1997)
Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled (2000)

Madame Karitska books
The Clairvoyant Countess (1975)
Kaleidoscope (2002)

Other Novels
Enchanted Caravan (1949)
Carnival Gypsy (1950)
Ragamuffin Alley (1951)
The Calico Year (1953)
Four Party Line (1954)
Papa Dolphins Table (1955)
Girl in Buckskin (1956)
Witches Silver (1959)
Masquerade (1961)
Ten Leagues to Boston Town (1962)
The Bells of Freedom (1963)
Uncertain Voyage (1967)
A Nun in the Closet (1975)
The Tightrope Walker (1979)
The Maze in the Heart of the Castle (1983)
Incident at Badamya (1989)
Caravan (1992)
Thale’s Folly (1999)

Non-Fiction
A New Kind of Country (1991)

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble.

7 Comments

  1. Thank you for letting me know. She was a wonderful writer.

    Carol

    Reply
  2. I enjoyed some of her mystery books but didn’t know she wrote children’s books. Thank you for the notice.

    Reply
  3. Which was your favorite book? I loved Golden Triangle, both Clairvoyant Countess books, Uncertain Voyage and Tightrope Walker. I can read them over and over.

    Reply
  4. I remember the Angela Lansbury version. Seemed like a perfect fit.

    Reply
  5. I love her books. All of them. I’ve read every one published after 1966. Just looked up the children’s books, my library doesn’t have them but I’m using Michigan’s Inter-Library Loan system to read them! So sad that she’s dead, those are important footsteps to follow.

    Reply
  6. Wonderful post. I remain a fan of Dorothy Gilman. I have read the Mrs. Pollifax mysteries multiple times. I just finished Incident at Badamya. Authors like her are hard to come by and you are correct, she left us wanting more.

    Reply
  7. I came across an excerpt from “A New Kind Of Country” in a magazine back in 1978. I quickly went to the S.F. Library and found the book. I never took it back! I paid the library for it GLADLY! and have re-read it so many times that the original binding is falling apart.

    When I sold my home in S.F. in 1981, I took my children and moved to the Seattle area. Putting everything in storage, I immediately headed for the border. Taking 3 months to cross my own country (Canada), I tracked down the village where Ms. Gilman lived and found her house that she vividly describes in A New Kind Of Country. Knocking on her door, I found that she had sold that house to another ex-pat American and had had built a much smaller cottage near by.

    I peered in the windows and after talking with a few of her neighbors found that she was spending the Thanksgiving hols with her sons in N.J. Somehow, I can’t recall now how I did it, I contacted her by phone and that led to a correspondence with her that I will treasure the rest of my life. I have all her letters and when I discovered that she had died about 6 years after our last correspondence, I was terribly saddened.

    I am so grateful to have known her and spoken with her the little that I did. She was a wonderful woman, and a great writer who is sorely missed.

    Reply

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