Alexander H. Harcourt, author of Humankind
Auntie Poldi. She’s a man-loving - especially Inspector Vito Montana-loving - German Miss Marples. She’s a terrier on the trail of murder in sensuous, warm Sicily. She’s as tasty as Sicily itself. She begins her days with a ‘revivifying Prosecco’, and often continues them with other stronger refreshments. Except when she’s on the case - except for another prosecco or two, because prosecco really isn’t a ‘drink’. I cannot think of another such amusing protagonist in the field of whodunits.
The writing matches Auntie Poldi - generous, warm, bold, amusing. Sicilian Lions is apparently the first in a series. I’ll be frequently checking the Bitter Lemon website for more Poldi, crime, amusement, and Sicilian recipes.
Sicily – as anyone who has read (or watched) the exploits of Inspector Montalbano will well know – is a land obsessed with its wine and food, populated by charming, eccentric and obfuscatory villains and semi-villains, dedicated to eradicating anything that has the merest whiff of political correctness – especially where women are concerned. And of course they live in the permanent shadow of the Cosa Nostra, though this book goes out of its way to point out that many Sicilians believe the Mafia to be an invention of ‘those Northern fascists’. Into this seething jacuzzi steps the narrator’s Auntie Poldi, dedicated, in her case, to drinking herself to death between the twin belvederi of the sunlit sea and Mount Etna, following the death of her beloved Peppe. Given that this book is to be “the first in a charming… series”, we can guess that she will fail in this attempt, at least for the time being, and that it’s not her corpse that will meet a mysterious end. And, as we hear time and again, she knows a thing or two about pretty well everything!
Auntie Poldi – like her author – is a German-Italian, originally from Munich. Her real name is Isolde Oberreiter. A 60-year old who swears in Bavarian and uses German invectives as just one of many weapons (including her late policeman-father’s collection of historic guns) against those who stand in her way as she investigates the death of her young, and handsome, Sicilian handy man. No, she hasn’t ‘had’ him, though she has fantasised about it, just as she fantasises in her eternal search for her Tristan amongst the dozens of police officers – especially vigili urbani – whom she photographs on her travels – five albums’ worth!
She is the leading eccentric in a whole cast of them, who wouldn’t be out of place in a Wodehouse novel set in a Mediterranean Blandings: a text-book French girl with an aggressive goose for a companion and who prefaces almost everything she says with Mon Dieu, an elderly nobleman who raves about the poet Hölderlin (with a Doberman to match), a know-all uncle and a more than personable Chief Inspector:
“aquiline nose… face like a Greek god cast in bronze… a face devoid of fatigue… hands like a pianist’s, slender but strong, with the curving thumbs indicative of willpower. Poldi was something of an expert on these things.”
This is Vito Montana, with whom the indomitable Isolde forms an unlikely alliance – romantic as well as professional – an alliance, however, that is somewhat one-sided, as she ignores his every warning to stay out of the detection business. She, of course, solves the riddle, not without a deal of rancour on his part and a deal of threats against her life on hers. Is it the Mafia? Ah, that would be telling…but along the way, as in all the best stories, we learn about being Sicilian: the importance of the bella figura:
“any Italian male, especially a Sicilian [can endure] economic crises, volcanic eruptions, corrupt politicians…uncollected rubbish with fatalism and a bella figura – the basic equipment includes…an unostentatiously fashionable appearance, a good pair of shoes and the right make of sunglasses. Above all… always looking good, never foolish.”
Auntie Poldi’s problem is that she transgresses the code:
“a German woman meddles in my enquiries and makes me look stupid… I’m almost tempted… to let those idiots in the Carabinieri bust a gut instead.”
And so food, the Sicilian panacea, must come to the rescue: Poldi has to abandon roast pork, Bavarian style, and learn to cook alla Siciliana. She tempts her Chief Inspector with Pasta alla Norma (…the sweetness of the tomato sauce blends with the salty ricotta and the slightly bitter note of the grilled aubergines.) followed by a gelato sweet as a whispered promise… a little tart like a lover’s goodbye the next morning. Ah me, if only…
This is the charm of this book: prose – beautifully translated by John Brownjohn, from the German, by the way, not Italian – which glides across the page like a Rolls Royce on the Mediterranean Corniche, liberally interspersed with Wodehousian (yes, him again) similes – We were welcomed with tumblerfuls of a dry Martini strong enough to send a Finnish seaman into a coma – and wry comments on Sicily – the relationship between physical stature and criminality in the male population… the shorter the man, the more threatening and the more likely to be a Mafioso.
There are enough surprises, twists and turns, to satisfy the most demanding addict of criminalità, but the true delight is its laid-back eccentricity, raffish humour and just the right attention to detail. Oberreiter and Montana may not roll off the tongue like Starsky and Hutch or Holmes and Watson, but they look set to create their own very special relationship. Roll on volume two…
Reviewed by Max Easterman
An ex-pat from Munich finds love and murder in Sicily.When Isolde Oberreiter decides at age 60 to move from Munich to Sicily "to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view," her decision makes a crazy kind of sense. Winters in Munich are not for the faint of heart. Her ex-husband, Peppe, now deceased, was from Catania, and his three sisters, Luisa, Teresa, and Caterina, welcome her to join them there. But Isolde, known to her family as Poldi, always flies to her own compass. Instead of Catania, she buys a villa in tiny Torre Archirafi, down the street from the Bar-Gelateria Cocuzza . Because even intrepid Poldi can't manage a villa on her own, she recruits Valentino Candela, a local jack-of-all-trades, to help with the restoration. Valentino is a great worker until he disappears. Suspecting foul play, Poldi invades Femminamorta, a local estate Valentino mentioned just before vanishing. Valérie Raisi di Belfiore, the estate's young owner, takes to Poldi, inviting her to dinner with her elderly cousin, Domenico Pastorella di Belfiore, owner of a still larger estate. Charmed as she is by Sicilian high society, Poldi isn't getting any closer to finding Valentino. And she isn't finding people with whom she really clicks—that is, until she crosses paths with police detective Vito Montana. Poldi is an irresistible newcomer with a mature voice and a vision of who she is and who she never will be, not afraid to take chances, and willing to fail. She's grateful to the universe for what it offers and accepting when it doesn't provide more. A drama queen who isn't fooled by her own production, she knows the value of living deeply. Giordano's wit and his formidable heroine's wisdom combine to make this debut a smash.
London Times-BOOK OF THE MONTH
Auntie Poldi has turned 60, her husband has died, and she decides to drink herself happily to death, somewhere with a sea view. She leaves her native Bavaria to settle in Sicily. However, she’s too sexy, witty, curious, opinionated, eccentric and stylishly dressed for her plan to work. In Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, her first adventure, she discovers the murdered corpse of a young man on the beach. For a while, she’s the chief suspect. Determined to solve the mystery herself, she interferes with police inquiries and lusts after the commissario in charge. Mario Giordano — a Bavarian of Sicilian parentage who writes in German — has created a delightful detective and a lively, humorous portrait of Sicilian society and gastronomy.
Giordano’s winning debut and series launch unleashes 60-year-old Isolde “Poldi” Oberreiter, the daughter of a Munich police detective, on the unsuspecting populace of the Sicilian village Torre Archirafi, where the fiercest conflicts center on where to buy the best fish, or whether coffee should be drunk solely as a sugar delivery system. Poldi, who was once married to the anonymous narrator’s late uncle, arrives as a depressed retiree intending to drink herself to death. But she changes her mind after she decides to investigate the shotgun murder of 19-year-old Valentino Candela, whose body she finds on a beach. Poldi, who has a weakness for good-looking policemen, enlists the aid of a reluctant police detective, Vito Montana, who knows all too well that powerful local figures are best left undisturbed, regardless of the crime. Despite some clunky moments, such as the recurring appearance of the figure of Death, Poldi’s pursuit of Valentino’s killers is done with breezy good humor. Wry, appreciative observations of Sicilian food, people, and history herald a series worth tracking. (Sept.)
Journal of the Law Society of Scotland:
It really is just as well that these lovely people at Bitter Lemon Press don’t play darts, because no one else would stand a chance. With Auntie Poldi they have hit the bullseye yet again.
The eponymous heroine is of un certain age, endowed with a spectacular thirst, an even more spectacular décolletage and a roving eye for good looking men in uniform. Having transposed herself from her native Bavaria to the family roots in Sicily, she clearly shows herself to be more Latin than Teutonic in temperament. So when the rather toothsome Valentino, who does the occasional odd job for her, disappears, she takes it upon herself to investigate. Like most amateur sleuths, she finds that her detective talents are not entirely appreciated by the professionals in charge, in particular by Commissario Vito Montana. He, curiously, is a good looking man of about Poldi’s age, almost in uniform. We shall say no more.
Set against the luscious background of Sicily, its delights and its daftness, narrated by Poldi’s writer nephew, this is a gentle pleasure throughout. Whatever your views on Poldi – and she ain’t no Miss Marple – I defy you not to have a smile on your face as you read this.
Run, don’t walk, to Mario Giordano’s riotous ‘Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions’, translated from the German by the excellent John Brownjohn. The first sentence lets readers know not to expect some sweet old auntie: “On her sixtieth birthday my AuntiePoldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view.” Fortunately, Poldi fails to do the deed (except for the move to Sicily part), and readers accompany her on a wild, waggish ride across the storied Italian isle. Poldi is a woman who makes Auntie Mame look like a wallflower. Her age hasn’t diminished her libido, so upon her arrival, she promptly falls for handsome Valentino, the young handyman she’s hired to work on her centuries-old house. Her dreams of an erotic encounter end when, during a walk along the beach, she stumbles across his dead body. Valentino has been murdered, his face obliterated by a shotgun blast. Since Poldi’s little village is littered with mafiosi, she at first suspects them, but once her investigation begins in earnest, she discovers several non-mafiosi who might have wanted Valentino dead, too. When Chief Inspector Vito Montana attempts to stop Poldi from interfering in police matters, he falls victim to her charms, and, despite their age difference, winds up in her bed. Together, the two—but mainly Poldi— bring the murderer to justice. As in all good novels, arriving at the solution is only half the fun; getting there is a delight. Careful readers will learn important life lessons, too. Poldi, who has a rather unique outlook on this vale of tears, regales us with advice such as “always overdress,” and “moderation is a sign of weakness.” In ‘Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions’, the lady of the hour always follows her own advice.