BookBrowse Reviews Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

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Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

by Mario Giordano

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano X
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley
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A charming new mystery series set in Sicily, featuring an amateur sleuth, the sassy and foul-mouthed Auntie Poldi.

Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a house along Via Baronessa in the Sicilian village of Torre Archirafi. Simple enough, until she becomes embroiled in murder – thus Mario Giordano turns a sly literary fiction into a cozy mystery, ripe with superb characterization and social commentary.

The widow Isolde – whom everyone calls Poldi – is sixty when she decides to move to her late husband's native Sicily. She intends "to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view." But that's difficult to accomplish in the midst of her husband's ribald, extroverted, adventure-loving extended family. Then Valentino Candela, a handsome lad who sometimes did odd jobs for Poldi, is murdered, his face obliterated by shotgun pellets. He is identifiable only by his tattoo of the trinacria (see Beyond the Book) – the Sicilian national emblem.

The formidable yet fey Poldi – she's made a hobby of photographing handsome traffic policemen in action while traveling the world – decides she must solve the crime, much to the chagrin of her Sicilian family and Vito Montana, a homicide investigator with a "face like a Greek god cast in bronze." Memorable characters arrive, linger, and disappear only to pop up elsewhere in perfect position to drive the narrative forward: The Keystone cops anecdote describing the first police response to the murder is a treasure. Poldi soon learns the happy-go-lucky murder victim, supposedly a jack-of-all trades, may have been a soldier for Russo, a businessman and purported don of the mafia in the land of its origin. There's the foppish descendant of an ancient family who considers himself the world's foremost expert on the minor poet Hölderlin, but he's no match for Martino, who never stops talking nor smoking, an autodidact able to discourse on Kafka or wild mushrooms with equal competence. No character, though, matches Poldi, entranced by Sicily yet German enough to picnic in the hot sun with "a monstrous great leg of roast pork" and all the trimmings.

Poldi's sometimes live-in nephew, a wanna-be-writer wrestling with writer's block, narrates Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, but the focus of the story is outward. As it unfolds, there's a touch of millennial irony from the narrator, but he remains mostly off-stage as Poldi fights friends and foe to discover Valentino's murderer. Poldi's adventure pauses occasionally for a discourse on Sicily's odd mixture of Arab and Norman culture, its dialect, touched by a whiff of the Arabic, speculation on the gods of old, and the jealousy and blame-shifting between the Carabinieri and Polizia di Stato. Poldi visits isolated gems like Femminamorta, a village consisting mostly of one superb restaurant. Then between references to modern economic inequalities and Sicily's historic sulphur mines, Poldi finds clues to the murder as she examines ancient mosaics, artful plasterwork, and massive carved staircases from dilapidated palazzi that are prized as decorating pieces by the nouveau riche.

Giordano has a talent for turning a few words into a portrait-in-depth, an example being his description of a slender young dilettante as looking like every French film director's dream – "unbearably lonely, ultra-sexy, Sartre-reading Gallic beauty." He's no slouch either as he deepens the narrative with descriptions of food, sidewalk cafes, and Sicily's intense blue sky, but nothing's done better than bringing the wry, and world-wise Sicilian people to the page. Word is that Auntie Poldi is the first of a series, but more courses to come or not, this initial effort is a veritable caponata siciliana – a tasty stew of food and culture, romance and mystery.

Reviewed by Gary Presley

This review was originally published in March 2018, and has been updated for the February 2019 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Trinacria

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