Review: ‘Crocodile Tears’, by Mercedes Rosende, tr. Tim Gutteridge

Crocodile Tears, by Mercedes Rosende, is the latest publication from Bitter Lemon Press. Expertly translated from the Spanish by Tim Gutteridge, this crime fiction novella is the publishers first release from Uruguay, and Rosende’s first appearance in English.

The intriguing plot begins in a dismal prison visiting room, where we meet Diego, recently charged with a kidnapping that does not appear to have gone at all to plan. His shifty lawyer, Antinucci is visiting to tell him that he will be released from the crowded prison in just one week–however, relief does not come easy to Diego, as it is clear that he is well and truly Antinucci’s puppet on a string and will soon have to pay for this favour. As the story quickly unravels further, we learn that ‘The Hobo’ (an abominable and hateful inmate at the prison) also wants something from Diego: reparation for protecting him inside, and for setting him up with the slippery lawyer Antinucci. ‘The Hobo’s’ role in the plot thus grows more and more important, especially when he too evades prison and seeks out Diego, demanding that he keeps his promise and assists him in an ambitious and somewhat naïve plan.

In the meantime, readers are also introduced to two more important characters. First, we meet Ursula Lopez, a downtrodden and somewhat troubled lady–and supposedly the wife of the man that Diego helped to kidnap. Recounts of her intriguing and questionable day-to-day activities are interspersed with flashbacks to childhood trauma, and conversations with the ghost of her father. We also get to know the somewhat stronger character of Captain Leonilda Lima, a member of the police force, who–despite being constantly dismissed and belittled by her male counterparts–is forceful and determined. 

Flitting between all of these characters’ storylines, the plot continues to unfold in a cloud of confusion, with the reader piecing together what has happened only moments before the characters themselves do. As the cloud begins to lift, these characters inevitably cross paths, and we see the incompetent criminals of the story hash together a hi-jack that is far outside of their abilities, and certainly deemed to fail. It is only thanks to the two female characters in Crocodile Tears (all too often overlooked or dismissed by the men) and their impulsive yet confident decisions, that the fast-paced narrative continues to evolve. Ursula Lopez and Captain Leonilda Lima then, are most certainly the heroines of the story.

Crocodile Tears is both comical and clever. Rosende expertly writes an intriguing story that never gives too much away, persistently leaving the reader on edge. Her style, in Gutteridge’s English translation, is captivating, the character descriptions compelling, and the passages on the dismal and unforgiving Uruguayan city of Montevideo perfectly setting the scene for the multiple crimes that the reader is witness to. Thanks to Gutteridge’s brilliant translation, the anglophone reader is immersed deep into the heart of Montevideo, its petty yet hardened criminals, and its corrupt professionals.

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