Mrs. Pollifax, a well-organized elderly grandmother given to expressive pink hats, had barely finished reading about the disappearance of a Communist spy seeking asylum at the British consulate in Istanbul, when she received a phone call asking if she were available for a mission beginning immediately. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and she had a full week, but found herself saying yes anyway. She had, somewhat unexpectedly, helped out the CIA some weeks before, and now they were requesting her services again.
After a quick flight to Langely, VA, she was told that the Communist spy, a Magda Ferenci-Sabo, had contacted the CIA requesting assistance. She had been a part of the French Resistance with the CIA directory during World War II, and had, presumably been doing double-agent work behind the Iron Curtain ever since. However, the operative that met her was promptly killed. So they were sending Mrs. Pollifax, because who would suspect that a grandmother would be an agent? After this she was promptly whisked onto an international flight bound for Istanbul.
On the London - Istanbul leg she sat next to a young and very aggressively beautiful girl on her way to a modeling photo-shoot in Greece. The girl had a cousin in Istanbul, a black sheep of this very Type A family, who never seemed to succeed. They had been trading a ring back and forth as a sort of game, and she asked if Mrs. Pollifax would deliver it to him; she said she would try. After arriving in Istanbul, she had a couple hours until she was to attempt to meet Magda, so she set out to find cousin Colin. This she did with little problem, and the cousin, being lonely, drove her back to her hotel with a little time to spare, and he sat in the parking lot to wait.
Mrs. Pollifax successful contacted the agent, but the police arrived and the agent, who was looking very tired fled. At the same time Colin decided to leave the parking lot, and the police took Mrs. Pollifax in for questioning. They took her passport until they could verify that she was who she said she was. Upon her return to the hotel the front desk informed her that Colin had called that he had her missing package; since the only thing she had lost was the agent, she hastily took a taxi back to Colin’s house. Colin had hidden the agent in his Jeep, not knowing anything more than she was a friend of Mrs. Pollifax, and as it began to dawn on him that neither Mrs. Pollifax nor her friend were ordinary tourists, he got a little surprised and upset at the risk he found himself in.
At that point, two men showed up with a gun and took the Jeep (with the agent, who was not really ambulatory). Before they went they tossed Mrs. Pollifax the dead body of Henry, a CIA agent assigned to shadow Mrs. Pollifax and make sure she was okay. Mrs. Pollifax needed to recover the agent, and Colin, despite being more and more shocked and alarmed, did not want to miss the adventure. They took his uncle’s van, put Henry in the back, and they drove to Dr. Belleaux’s house. Mrs. Pollifax had been given Dr. Belleaux’s address in case of an emergency. However, when they arrived, they discovered that the men who had stolen Magda had gone in to his house with her.
Dr. Belleaux was having a loud party, and had a reputation of being friendly with the police, so Mrs. Pollifax and Colin, who did not want police involvement, took the stairs to the second floor and found the threesome in one of the bedrooms. After a reflexive karate chop to one of the men who attacked her (her recent training was proving helpful), she used his gun to kidnap the agent back. On they way down they were discovered by the party, and by Dr. Belleaux, but escaped by means of the gun. Magda had insisted that she had left something important at Yozgat (near Ankara on the eastern side of the Bosporous) and refused to leave without it. So Colin drove them in time to catch one of the last ferries east across the Bosporous for the night.
On the way out of Istanbul they found a cemetery, where Mrs. Pollifax insisted that they leave Henry (with a note so he would be identifiable). On the other side of the gravestone was a drifter who was spending the night in the cemetery, but wanting to go to Ankara. He forces himself on them and they drive towards Ankara. As morning came they decided to take the poor quality road in to Ankara, on the assumption that the police might be blockading the roads. Partway there they were attacked by a black car which shot and them and attempted to run them off the road. The drifter, Sandor, did a splendid job of driving, while Colin used the gun and managed to shoot a tire, causing the car to lose control, crash, and burn. Sandor, with his penchant for saying “wothehell” not quite correctly, took them off-roading to meet his friends in Ankara.
Sandor’s friends provided them with native peasant garb and fake identity cards. The police, meanwhile, had verified with the Americans that Mrs. Pollifax was a legitimate citizen, but had also identified her handwriting on note left on Henry’s body and issued a warrant for her arrest. On learning of this, the CIA director was rather worried. Back in Turkey, Sandor had procured four tickets on a bus to Yozgat. Due to the hot, dusty, crowded conditions in the bus, no American was likely to be on the bus, so it was not searched by the police. However, upon arriving at Yozgat, Dr. Belleaux met them with a concealed weapon as they got off the bus and forced them into a car. Colin was having difficulty getting off the bus, and since Dr. Belleaux was only expecting three of them, he did not take the Turkish-peasant-looking Colin.
Colin steals a bicycle to follow the car, and is himself pursued by a young girl wanting to get her friend’s bicycle back. Upon hearing his story and identifying the house that the three were taken to, she volunteered to help. Sabahat was a very attractive young woman, about Colin’s age, interested in all things foreign, and home from studying abroad for the summer. Magda had said that she had left the item with gypsies who were staying in the area. Although the gypsies had left that morning, they were able to find the gypsy who had promised to wait for her. After some initial suspicions, he followed them to the house.
The back of the house had a door that had been bricked up, but the Turkish process of bricking consisted most of stacking the bricks and apply mortar to the outside. Since the outside mortar had worn away through age, the bricks could simply be lifted out. Mrs. Pollifax and Sandor were in that room and were rescued, but Dr. Belleaux had injected Magda with truth serum after she resolutely refused to give any information. Magda had told a lot of her story, and Dr. Belleaux was at the point of asking about the item she was looking for, when Sabahat knocked on the door as a very eager census worker. After she finished, her friends, who were also excited about foreign things and equally as excited at seeing someone as well-respected as Dr. Belleaux, kept him from leaving the house by use of love-in techniques while the rest escaped with Magda.
Colin had chanced to meet his uncle whom he was working for, and who was off on a trip, in a run-down cafe, so his uncle drove them in his van in pursuit of the gypsies who were keeping Magda’s item that she had smuggled out. They found that camp shortly after nightfall, but were met by Dr. Belleaux, who had flow there in his helicopter and incited the gypsies against them. Gypsies do not make friends with gorgio very easily, but when they do, they are loyal. Magda was their friend, and they were very upset that this party had attempted to kill her. Mrs. Pollifax’s protests in English were useless, as the only one who spoke credible Turkish (besides Sandor, who had attempted to flee when the gypsies captured, so he was not credible) was Dr. Belleaux. They were tied to a tree, with Dr. Belleaux promising to burn the tree once he had located Magda’s item.
However, shortly after, a gypsy boy came and untied Mrs. Pollifax, bringing her to the wagon of an old gypsy woman. He spoke enough English to suspect that she had something worth hearing. Anyeta, the gypsy woman, spoke English, but instead of asking Mrs. Pollifax questions, she simply read her palms (palms don’t lie). She was persuaded that it was Dr. Belleaux who was not telling the truth, and she had her husband inform the other gypsies. She also showed Mrs. Pollifax what Magda had smuggled out—the young boy, who was her grandson.
The gypsies drugged Dr. Belleaux (killing a gorgio would be unwise, what with the police already hassling them at every opportunity) and they travel with the wagons southward, as Dr. Belleaux had called in the location to the police, who would be there in the morning. Magda had recovered from the drugs and recognized Colin’s uncle. It turned out that they had worked together some years before, and had loved each other. Magda told Mrs. Pollifax that she was very tired from living a double life, never being able to get close to anyone, lest they betray her or she be forced to betray them. She wanted to lead a quiet life. Mrs. Pollifax replied that she had been under the shadow of someone great (presumably her husband), and now seemed to be moving from the quiet life to the more adventurous life.
The goal of Mrs. Pollifax and the gypsies was to get Magda to the closest airport, where she could take the flight to London the next day. Since it was a small airport, the next flight to London would be several days, hardly enough for her to survive Dr. Belleaux and his helicopter. The gypsies hid out in an abandoned village high in the rocky cliffs while the police helicopters and planes searched for them. At night the wagons headed for the airport.
Unfortunately, they were stopped by police in the morning, after which Dr. Belleaux arrived in his helicopter, with police coming at them from the sides. Mrs. Pollifax, determined to get Magda to the airport, rushes Dr. Belleaux, and with the help of the gypsies disables him. She puts Magda in the helicopter, and flies the helicopter by trial and error to the town with the airport. Unfortunately, the helicopter is out of gas and they land in the central square.
The two of them grabbed a taxi while Colin attracted the attention of the crowd. Magda changed her clothes, transforming into a very regal Western woman boarding a flight for London. After watching Magda board and seeing the plane take off, Mrs. Pollifax left the airport, only to be promptly arrested by Dr. Belleaux.
After some time in a ancient and very unpicturesque cell, she was interrogated by Turkish intelligence. Once she sees that the time has past for Magda’s transfer flight from Istanbul to London to take off, she tells the officer actual details, after which he informs her of the larger story. Dr. Belleaux was a double-agent, who had been held in reserve for a critical time. She is also introduced to Lieutenant Suleiman, more recently known as Sandor, who had been surveilling Dr. Belleaux’s house. Upon seeing the rather unusual figure of Mrs. Pollifax taking Magda from the house, he followed them and rendered assistance. The Turkish government had allowed Magda to leave, but it was noted in the papers that Ferenci-Sabo’s body had been found in the Turkish countryside. Magda had left her grandson with Colin’s uncle, and they would meet her in Scotland. Mrs. Pollifax and her companies were thrown a party by the Turkish government. The CIA received a telegram announcing the successful completion of the mission, leaving him rather astounded.