book review – Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears is a rollicking good read that straddles the crime, action, and humour genres with aplomb … it boasts hints of vaudeville, echoes of Pink Panther, flashes of violence, and a wryly menacing classical soundtrack.

‘fast, slick and acerbically funny: buckle up and enjoy the ride’
Laura Wilson for The Guardian

what it says on the cover …

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.

A hilarious caper ensues, as 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. This seemingly lowlife crime story has a powerful message: never, ever underestimate the women!

SHELF: crime | action
MY RATING: ★★★☆☆
AUTHOR: Mercedes Rosende
PUBLISHER: Bitter Lemon Press
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle
AVAILABLE: from 21st January

my review

Among the streets and barrios of old town Montevideo a plan is being hatched; a heist to be exact, and it’s being hatched by someone who really should know better.  But then, if your little black book were full to bursting point with some of the city’s most accomplished criminals, then perhaps it would be a crime in itself not to make the most of them.

When I say accomplished criminals, I’m probably being overly generous.  The criminals who are being lined up for this heist happen to be in prison when we first meet them … so perhaps they’re not as good as we’re first led to believe.  Their incarceration will be brought to a premature end, thanks to a crooked lawyer, and a disingenuous witness statement.

Crocodile Tears is arranged over three parts, with chapters that flit between its cast of five larger-than-life characters:

  • Diego – a somewhat bewildered and shy would-be kidnapper, sissy, and the last man you’d want as your bag packer at the supermarket, let alone your wingman for an armed heist.
  • The Hobo – none-too-bright, heavily tattooed, cruel, career criminal with an axe to grind.
  • Antinucci – the contrary, bulging-eyed lawyer who thinks nothing of taking delivery of a small arsenal of weapons immediately after a sincere and god-fearing confession to Father Ismael. 
  • Ursula Lopez – there are actually two Ursula Lopez’s for the first half of the book, but the heroine of this story is the most downtrodden of the two. Part voyeur, part foodie, much troubled, and prone to conversations with her long-dead, frustratingly judgemental father, she’s all but invisible to the rest of the cast.
  • Captain Leonilda Lima – chances upon the hapless plot, although not entirely coincidentally. Like Ursula, her gender marks her out as someone not to concern yourself with (to the baddies) which enrages her as much as it works in her favour.

The humour is brought to the book by the shambolic criminals and – most enjoyably – the sardonic narrative. This derisory, acutely observant voice kept me hooked to the end … it reminded me of the comic capers of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, and it helped to offset the (very occasional) more brutal scenes in the book.

I approach translated books with a degree of trepidation, especially when something as nationalistic as humour is involved.  But wow! If anything was lost in the translation (Mercedes is Uruguan) then Crocodile Tears certainly isn’t the poorer for it: the plot flows well, the prose and syntax are spot-on, and humour crosses the cultural divide seamlessly.

If you’re a fan of crime fiction, and you’re open to a fresh new take on this brilliant genre, then you shouldn’t miss Crocodile Tears.

Thank you to Bitter Lemon Press for kindly sending me an advance proof copy of Crocodile Tears in return for an honest review.

mercedes rosende

Mercedes 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’.

tim gutteridge

Tim is a Scottish literary translator based in Cadiz, Andalucia. He works from Spanish and Catalan into English. His translation of Potosí by Ander Izagirre won a PEN Translates Award and was published by Zed Books as The Mountain That Eats Men.

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