“It’s humorous, bawdy and then visceral; drunk, silly and then shockingly sober” – Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

apatsuA 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.

 

Tamim Sadikali

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