The setting: Montevideo’s Old Town, with its dark alleys, crumbling facades and watchful residents. The gig: an armoured truck robbery. The cast: Diego, a failed kidnapper with weak nerves, Ursula Lopez, an amateur criminal with an insatiable appetite, the Hobo, a notorious hoodlum with excessive self-confidence. Dr. Antinucci, a shady lawyer with big plans. And finally, Leonilda Lima, a washed out police inspector with a glimmer of faith in justice. It all starts in an overcrowded prison, where Diego is being held on a charge of kidnapping. Diego’s lawyer, the fastidious Antinucci, secures Diego’s release. But the lawyer has plans for his client, whose unexpected freedom comes at a price: he must join forces with a brutal psychopath, the Hobo, and hold up an armoured truck. The robbery swiftly degenerates into mayhem and violence. While the men appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to see who is the most incompetent, the disparaged women – Ursula Lopez, an amateur criminal with an insatiable appetite, and her rival, Captain Leonilda Lima – reveal themselves to be the true protagonists; never, ever underestimate the women…
One of the joys of reading is being transported to countries you will in likelihood never visit, and equally know little about, so it was a really satisfying experience to read Mercedes Rosende’s Crocodile Tears set in Montevideo in Uruguay- a country I have never read about before. Not only was I assailed by the environment of a city I knew nothing about, but even more enjoyable was that this proved to be a deliciously dark, and well-constructed thriller from start to finish…
I don’t know where to begin as there are many facets of this book that really appealed to me as a reader, so I’ll begin with Rosende’s writing itself. I loved the way she played with the structure with the book, seamlessly merging the differing styles of narration with good hearty doses of authorial intrusion. This served to toy with our perception of the characters, being privy to little vignettes of information that altered what we held true about the characters, or just inserted as little teasing asides about the person we were encountering, whether through this authorial voice or through the character’s inner monologue. This effectively dispelled the book as a linear reading experience, and I found myself awaiting the intrusion of Rosende’s voice to give more heft to the background of some of these protagonists, and manipulating her reader slightly as to how to perceive the character she was depicting. It was extremely cleverly done and refreshingly different.
I was also blown away by Rosende’s use of description which pivoted beautifully between stone cold fact, and a really lyrical and sensuous feel, particularly in relation to her descriptions of Montevideo itself- the good and slightly more seamy. There was an almost dreamlike, philosophical quality to some of her descriptions which are short but hint at emotional themes, ” Today is one of those pale sepia days when everything makes you feel like crying.” Her descriptions of the city along with the interiors of other buildings and locales are precise and vibrant, bringing each environment into stark clarity for the reader, and rooting the onlooker into this largely unfamiliar location.
As much as the book has quite a male muscular feel to it, opening in a prison and with us quickly encountering a failed kidnapper and a psychopathic hoodlum, the weight of the book really comes from the two main female characters, Captain Leonilda Lima, and Ursula Lopez, with her criminal tendencies, and a whole heart of darkness at the centre of her character. We see Lima’s dogged determination and steely resolve when set against her macho police colleagues, her wry, self-deprecating assessment of herself, and her razor sharp intuitiveness which leads her to embark on a long game of cat and mouse to achieve her aims. Lopez is a truly bizarre character, with a gradually unfolding back story of strange familial tension that has truly marked her as a person, but somehow makes us conflicted towards her until the truth about her formative years are slowly revealed. Both characters are rich and fulfilling in their depiction and can safely say that Ursula in particular will play around in my head for some time to come.
Cut through with wry dark humour, compelling female protagonists and bumbling male criminals, the comparison to Fargo is totally justified. However, the sheer quality and diversity of Rosende’s writing throughout, lifts Crocodile Tears above this straightforward comparison. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, with its perceptive translation by Tim Gutteridge, and cannot wait for the next to be translated. Highly recommended.
(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)
Mercedes Rosende was born in 1958 in Montevideo, Uruguay. She is a lawyer and a journalist when not writing fiction. She has won many prizes for her novels and short stories. In 2005 she won the Premio Municipal de Narrativa für ‘Demasiados Blues’, in 2008 the National Literature Prize for ‘La Muerte Tendrá tus Ojos’ and in 2019 the LiBeraturpreis in Germany for ‘Crocodile Tears’. She lives in Montevideo.
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