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by Tonino Benacquista
Bitter Lemon Press, April 2005
200 pages
ISBN: 190473801X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Tonio Polsinelli is quite happy living in France, thanks for asking. He's a Paris boy, even if his parents are from Italy and still can't speak the language 30 years later.

And Tonio does his best to stay away from the expat Italians out in the Parisian suburbs -- and that includes mum and dad. But after one visit to his parents' home he runs into Dario, a low-life Paris gigolo who has also staunchly refused to integrate. Tonio reluctantly agrees to do Dario a favour by writing a love letter in French for him.

And that's where Tonio's troubles start. Dario is found dead, and Tonio suddenly finds himself the owner of a lousy vineyard back in Italy east of Naples -- we're talking vino collapso vinegar here.

Tonio goes off to view his new inheritance and discovers Dario had set up an elaborate scam. It looks like he might be in the money -- but then he becomes the focus of the unwelcome attentions of both the Mafia and the Vatican, as well as a village-full of barking mad residents who look like something out of The League of Gentlemen (the UK TV version and not the film one, in case you're wondering!)

There's the divine Bianca, who proves that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and also the mysterious blind man who has a taste for the ropey wine and turns out to be an unlikely sidekick for Tonio.

HOLY SMOKE careers around covering food, wine, religion, miracles and some old Italian history. It's black humour at its finest, and a caper novel which whisks you along in its slipstream. Tonino Belacquista -- born in France of Italian parents -- is clearly one hell of a writer. The book's witty, pacy and exciting, and an all-round tremendous read.

Kudos, again, to Bitter Lemon Press's translator Adriana Hunter, who appears to have done the award-winning book justice with a translation that feels relaxed and with an authentic feel to the sharp backchat.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, May 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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