Translated by John Brownjohn
Reviewed by Annabel
I’m very glad to have met the irrepressible Auntie Poldi! Our narrator, her beloved nephew, tells us what she is like:
a glamorous figure, always ready to make a dramatic entrance. She had put on a bit of weight in recent years, admittedly, and booze and depression had ploughed a few furrows in her outward appearance, but she was still an attractive woman and mentally tip-top – most of the time, at least. Stylish, anyway. When Madonna’s Music came out, Poldi was the first woman in Westermühlstrasse to wear a white Stetson.
Poldi is the nickname of Isolde Oberreiter, a childless, sixty-year-old German costume designer from Munich, who had been married to Guiseppe from Sicily. After a tempestuous marriage, the death of Peppe and the death of her own parents, Poldi is left on her own. Fed up of working, she decides to retire and her in-laws in Sicily persuade her to move near them. She agrees, hoping to:
fulfil one of her dearest wishes: to die with a sea view. And family for company.
But at sixty, she is far too young to curl up and die – even with a sea view. She is also a demanding house-buyer, driving the narrator’s Uncle Martino mad in the hunt for the perfect little bolthole.
Once she is moved into her restored fisherman’s cottage, she begins stirring things up in her village in a way that Miss Marple would never have dreamed of doing. It all begins when Valentino, the young man who does some odd jobs for her, goes missing. Poldi has jobs that need doing, so she sets out to find him.
This leads her to meet Signor Russo, the local fat cat who owns a palm tree nursery and his neighbour, a Frenchwoman called Valérie, who has no love for her shady neighbour. It is after a dinner at Valérie’s that Poldi goes for a late night drive to clear her head – and it is Poldi that finds Valentino’s body – and in the ensuing interrogation she meets handsome Inspector Vito Montana, (she has a thing for policemen, and her father had been a Detective Chief Inspector.)
Poldi, of couse, can’t leave it to the police to solve the crime and poor Vito is nearly overwhelmed by the elemental force that is Poldi on a mission; attracted to her too (it gets very complicated!).
The novel’s framing device has Poldi telling her story to her nephew who then relays the story to us. He lives in Germany and pays monthly visits to Sicily to keep an eye on Poldi, and supposedly have peace and quiet to write his book. He obviously adores his auntie and is often quite shocked by her behaviour of employing her décolletage and feminine wiles to get information. She loves him too and he is the perfect audience for her racy tales. The narrator’s three other aunts also love a good gossip and to interfere when they can, acting a little like a comic chorus on the side.
Although there are elements of living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it’s soon clear that you don’t want necessarily want to know this with shady types like Russo having his finger in a lot of pies. Poldi, the outsider, just wades in – well they wouldn’t harm an old lady would they?
Interestingly, author Giordano is the German son of Italian immigrants to Munich – he could be the narrator! While this book doesn’t quite reach the gastronomic heights of Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano stories, the picture he builds of the Eastern coast of modern Sicily is both attractive and socially complicated in a humorous way. The translation captures this and Poldi’s capricious yet calculating nature perfectly.
It’s a joy to read a modern crime novel with a sense of humour – they are few and far between, so I savoured this one with its unconventional leading lady. Highly recommended, and I hope there are more to come.
Annabel is one of the Shiny Editors.
Mario Giordano, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions (John Murray, 2017) hardback, 329 pages.
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