A German woman in Sicily. An elderly German woman in Sicily, wanting no more from life than to drink herself to death in front of a fine sea view. And then, murder… Such is the comic noir-esque premise of Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano. Before starting the novel, one imagines the character – some freaky splicing of Miss Marple with Inspector Clouseau – tearily drinking vino and stumbling across clues. Which frankly would be good enough, but Giordano has taken cartoon elements and added flesh and sinew, to create a complex human being. Yes, Poldi is old, lonely, sometimes teary and a cartoon boozer, but she’s also in possession of a razor-sharp mind. And determined. And feisty. And amorous. And sexual:
“Poldi leant forward, cursing the fact that she was still wearing her high-necked churchgoing dress … She could smell Montana’s aftershave. A whiff of sandalwood, khus-khus and tobacco, laced with a hint of sweat – a mixture that demanded almost inhuman self-control from her.”
For someone reared on Anglo-American fiction, just the uniqueness of the main character – the voicing of, and indeed celebration of all that goes with being old – makes this novel stand out. And then, as a work of crime fiction, the central story is classical: the bloody execution of a young man in a location of aching beauty, followed swiftly by that overarching question – whodunit?
There is another competing narrative of this novel, though: Sicily. And from time-to-time, the tangents to the central thrust, as the author takes another Sicilian detour, are disruptive – taking the reader out of their bubble. (This is particularly true at the novel’s start – too much time is taken for the story to build momentum). But perhaps exactly like Sicily, the novel is optimised for comfort; not efficiency. And with a small adjustment of perspective, one can easily enjoy the ride.
Any Cop?: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is more than a Miss Marple tale set in a warmer version of St Mary Mead. It’s humorous, bawdy and then visceral; drunk, silly and then shockingly sober. And, once the story gets going, it really is unputdownable.