The Blurb On The Back:
WINE AND MURDER – nothing is more likely to rouse Auntie Poldi’s love of the chase.
Still relishing the notoriety from her spectacular resolution of the Candela case, Poldi is alive to the faintest whiff of criminality.
What to others might seem a series of misfortunes – the water supply cut off, a poisoned dog – is clearly, to Poldi, an escalation: the Mafia have had her in their sights ever since she solved Valentino’s murder.
Poldi has tasted blood. No one is above suspicion. And trouble will surely follow …
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s October, several weeks after AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS.
Auntie Poldi has been enjoying the enhanced social status in Torre Archirafi, Sicily that comes from having solved the murder of her handyman, Valentino, and no longer seems intent on drinking herself to death. But when she suffers a couple of setbacks – the poisoning of a beloved local mongrel called Lady who belonged to Poldi’s friend Valérie, the Mafia turning off the water to her street in order to dissuade her from investigating their affairs and a throbbing toothache in an old crown – the narrator’s Aunt Teresa persuades him to abandon his call center job in Germany and go and stay with Auntie Poldi to keep an eye on her in case she relapses.
Once there, in between working on his stalled novel (and being schooled by Poldi on the various ways he is failing at life), he learns the story of Poldi’s latest investigation. Having started out by trying to discover who poisoned Lady, during an evening between the sheets her lover, chief inspector Vito Montana, tells her about his latest investigation – the murder of a district attorney called Elisa Puglisi who was found battered to death in her second home in Acireale. The murder weapon was a bottle of wine from the Etna Rosso vineyard and Poldi immediately recognises the label from a map that her nemesis, Italo Russo was discussing with Patanè during her investigations in AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS. Certain that Russo is behind the water to her street being shut off and keen to prove to Montana that he’s connected with the Mafia, Poldi decides to visit the vineyard to see what she can dig up.
At Etna Rosso, Poldi meets its owner, the sexy Achille Avola, with whom Poldi feels an instant lust-driven connection that Avola seems to reciprocate. Over a boozy lunch that the vineyard has laid on for some German tourists who Valérie is hosting, Poldi meets the famous clairvoyant, Madame Sahara and Avola’s nephew, Enzo (a dentist and leading light in Sicily’s branch of the Five Star Movement). Unfortunately for Poldi, Italo Russo who has business dealings with Avola is also present at the lunch and alert to the fact that she’s clearly stirring the pot. After partaking too much of Etna Rosso’s produce and spending the night in Avola’s bed, Poldi discovers the body of Madame Sahara in the vineyard the next morning.
Certain that Russo is involved somehow, Poldi is determined to solve the case, but doing so puts her on a collision course with Montana who warns her to step away. With the pair’s relationship already strained thanks to Montana’s existing much younger girlfriend, Alessia, becoming intolerant of their affair, Poldi must call on her friends, local priest Padre Paolo and Signora Cocuzza and even the narrator’s Uncle Martino and Aunts Catarina, Luisa and Teresa if she’s to crack this case. But doing so will put their lives – and her own – in danger and Death has already warned Poldi that she’s got less time than she thought …
The second in Mario Giordano’s AUNTIE POLDI SERIES (energetically translated from German by John Brownjohn) is a rollicking crime novel packed with humour, passion and more twists than you can shake a stick at. Poldi is a great creation – a 60-something alcoholic with a death wish who’s lust for life is reinvigorated by her investigations – such that you can’t help root for her. I hadn’t read the first book but I will definitely be doing so.
I picked this up without realising that it was the second book in a series. I hadn’t read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS but Giordano gives you all the background you need for the purposes of this book.
Poldi is a clever, entertaining creation and I can absolutely see this making a great TV series adaptation. As a 60-something alcoholic, Poldi has an inner sadness following the death of her husband, Peppe, which is driving her to drink herself to death. However, Giordano also drops in her stories from her earlier life with some outrageous claims (notably around all the celebrities she’s met and is friends with) and she’s completely at ease with her sexuality and her personal emotional state. I especially enjoyed the interaction between Poldi and the unnamed narrator as she schools him in where he’s going wrong with his life and why his novel is rubbish (and I gotta say I could hard relate to his writing struggles). There’s a very enjoyable and knowing meta feel to how she knows he’d be better off writing up her adventures than the literary piece he’s working on and his determination not to do so.
The romance with Montana works well. Although the fact that Montana has a girlfriend 25-years his junior made me roll my eyes a bit (just because it’s such a cliche), I believed that Poldi loves him and he loves her even as much as I believed that Poldi infuriates Montana by sticking her beak in where it doesn’t belong. The stress that Poldi’s attraction to Avola puts on their relationship is equally well done and I did enjoy the fact that Poldi points out the hypocrisy of Montana’s jealousy given his own situation. Although Poldi has a laissez-faire attitude towards sex, I did wish, however, that there’d been a bit more development in terms of her examining her attraction to Avola. There are good plot reasons for why she doesn’t until the final quarter, but it does make the resolution seem slightly hackneyed and there to get her off the hook.
I enjoyed how the usually solitary Poldi is forced to rely more on her friends (who are very keen to get involved) and I would have liked to have seen more of her relationship with Padre Paolo and Signora Cocuzza because they have a fun dynamic (especially in a scene where they are staking out a house). That said, I suspect this is something that will probably develop more as the series goes on because there seems to be a theme here of Poldi being drawn back to engaging with life through her investigations.
The mystery itself generally plays out well and kept me engrossed. The exception to this is with the storyline relating to the poisoning of Lady, which is really perfunctory and there only to see a character development in Poldi. Otherwise, I enjoyed how Giordano keeps the various plot lines working, drawing them together as he needs to.
Special mention must be made of John Brownjohn’s translation work. I’ve read a number of books in translation and sometimes the language can feel quite flat and static, robbing the book of atmosphere. That is not the case here – Brownjohn packs the language full of vivacity and rhythm so it all moves along very well and in an evocative way. It’s a really good job and I look forward to reading more translations by him.
The only criticism I’ve got of the book is in the scenes involving a Japanese performance artist called Higashi-san who is in Sicily to do an interpretive dance. I think the idea behind the scenes is to highlight how accepting Poldi is of things outside her ken and her curiosity about art. However, the way Higashi-san is described left me quite uncomfortable – there’s an “othering” to the description of his appearance that didn’t sit right, particularly when coupled with a sense that he’s there to perform some mystical function that sits him apart from “ordinary” mortals. It’s the only mis-step for me in the whole book but it did leave a bit of an unpleasant taste.
This criticism aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and have added AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS to my To Buy List. I look forward to checking out the whole series.