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      Mario Giordano: Auntie Poldi And The Sicilian Lions.       

Bitter Lemon Press    £ 8.99.
         

Hard drinking, heavy smoking and amorous detectives have been around crime fiction for some time, from almost the beginning.  Usually, though, they are men.  Auntie Poldi likes a drink, a cigarette and, because of her experience, has a few tips about seduction.  The difference is that Poldi is female and sixty years old.  Somehow Auntie Poldi has the appeal of Miss Marple and Inspector Montalbano.  Miss Marple was not easily shocked but she would have been surprised by the behaviour and wandering eye of Auntie Poldi.  Auntie Poldi And The Sicilian Lions has a cast of pleasing self-indulgent eccentrics, the kind of people that in our gentler moments we imagine ourselves to be.  There are even elements of Last Of The Summer Wine feel good humour and adventure. 

Auntie Poldi And The Sicilian Lions is the first crime novel by screenwriter and novelist Mario Gordano.  It is a stunning debut.  The setting for Auntie Poldi And The Sicilian Lions is Sicily, and the descriptive writing is excellent.  Giordano lets the nephew of Auntie Poldi tell the adventure.  The nephew sometimes reminds the reader of what Auntie Poldi told him and he even incorporates details of the novel he is failing to write.  This sounds clumsy but the reactions of the nephew provide added insight into the complicated and interesting nature of Auntie Poldi. 

The narrative method and gossipy style also helps the comedy and ensures that we do not take the plot too seriously.  There are occasions when the intuition of Auntie Poldi is especially inspired.  Giordano, though, tells his tale with irony and a charming smile.  Even ex-Beatle Ringo Starr makes an appearance.  His superior observation enables Auntie Poldi to form suspicions.  God knows what John Lennon would think about Ringo being useful.  The book is interrupted half way by the telling of an old Sicilian joke.  No reader will object.  The joke is a good one and it is well placed, after a cliff-hanger and before the final confrontations.   Despite the irony and charm, the plot is sturdy.  It has a satisfying revelation and there are devices that maintain the interest of the puzzle.  The characters link the past and the present. 

Each chapter has a précis in the fashion of the Victorian fiction of Wilkie Collins.  They suggest a different world free of the stresses of modern life and a tale that we should not try to adapt to our experience of reality.  As in the Montalbano novels, there are diversions.  The location, locals and menus are there to be savoured.  Auntie Poldi and The Sicilian Lions will convince any reader that it is possible to dream of paradise and escape.  

The humour is light and more likely to produce self-satisfied smiles rather than belly laughs.  The eruption of the volcano Etna, when it occurs in the book, should make any reader chuckle.   Auntie Poldi is perfect escapism for those visiting Italy.  Readers need to find a quiet spot on the coast, relax, enjoy the sunshine and turn over the pages.  Right now the weather in England is sunny.  I just might treat myself to a chocolate ice cream.

 By Howard Jackson.