"The title makes sense. Compassion in all of the characters of Crocodile Tears is limited to a self-pity shaped by an exaggerated sense of entitlement. The tale in the book has been compared to that in the movie Fargo. The comparison also makes sense because, like the movie, much of Crocodile Tears consists of black farce created by chaotic and amoral personalities completely unaware of the law of unintended consequences. But there is nothing in Fargo or anything else for that matter that compares to the stunning armed robbery set piece that dominates the second half of Crocodile Tears. That alone makes Crocodile Tears an essential and delightful read. Indeed it probably justifies a special trip to South America. Most readers, having followed the armed robbers and police around the streets of Montevideo, will have the urge to remap the events and street corners where all the action takes place.
Crocodile Tears glories in crazy coincidences, and their purpose is to support an intricate farce that is constructed as well as anything French playwrights constructed in their heyday. For those of a bleak disposition, and for those who write farces, life can either be regarded as sad or pathetic. Before the robbery of the armed vehicle the characters vary between the two. One of the key characters is a sad or pathetic peeping tom. But as in the Patricia Highsmith novel The Cry Of The Owl this peeping tom is a lot more complicated than we imagine. Patricia Highsmith may have understood the distinction between what is sad or pathetic but even she would have baulked at the madness that occurs in the armed vehicle robbery.
Mercedes Rosende is a talented and confident writer and in the first half of Crocodile Tears she pushes literary invention to include detail beyond what is expected of genre fiction in Britain. The book, though, never stops being a page turner, and there is always the glorious and extended set piece that concludes the book. The confidence of Rosende extends to the author keeping the reader in the dark for as long as possible. Crocodile Tears has not just one denouement but many and none are introduced too soon. Even better, some are hilarious. There are even some serious themes hidden in the mayhem. At the beginning of Crocodile Tears two of the protagonists begin the book in prison but all the characters are imprisoned to some extent.
In the plays of Chekov much of the confusion is caused by characters making the right speeches to the wrong people. In Crocodile Tears all the conversations are somehow inappropriate and misjudged. The action consists of helpless stumbles by people who overrate their talents except, of course, there are twists. But that would be telling. The female author has several sly digs at the conflict between the genders and has her own points to make about men and women. But like the twists in the plot, mentioning them would also be telling. The best thing to do is read Crocodile Tears. The laughs and chuckles will be genuine." Howard Jackson, Red Rattle Publishing
"How many Uruguayan crime novels have you read? Me neither. Yet among her several literary prizes Mercedes Rosende won the LiBeraturpreis in Germany for this one in 2019.
It takes a while to become, as billed on the cover, ‘a blackly comic caper’ partly because it’s a multi-stream story combining several narratives. First we have Diego, a not too competent kidnapper who, to his surprise, is sprung from remand because the plaintiff says she has never met him. She, Ursula, is slim, rich and sly and shares a name with another, overweight and unhappy Ursula involved in the kidnapping – this Ursula (who has her own narrative stream) being an amateur criminal whose life has been marred by a dominating father. Diego’s dubious lawyer, Antinucci, decides the best thing for his client to do on release is to join up with ‘the Hobo’ (probably the nastiest person in the book) and hold up an armoured truck, a scheme which, as you can imagine, is unlikely to succeed. Piecing all this together (and with her own narrative stream) is the hard-working cop, Captain Leonilda Lima, so far passed over in her career but – who knows? – about to change her luck? Yes, you could say that this is complicated.
The drama unfolds in a light conversational style, with plenty of asides to the reader, some gags, and plenty of twists and plot reversals. Things do not go well." CrimeTime
“Crocodile Tears” offers a welcome exploration of crime fiction from Uruguay commencing in a place you really wouldn’t want to be. The atmospheric opening chapter is set in probably one of the last places you would want to visit in the country; an overcrowded prison in Montevideo! Intriguingly the descriptions and minimal dialogue between prisoner and visitor indicate that the more villainous character of the two could well be the one who is free to leave. It’s a very promising start to Mercedes Rosende’s first novel translated into English, adeptly translated by PEN Translates Award winning Scotsman Tim Gutteridge. And so begins a multi stranded story which weaves its way to a money heist, switching between four principal characters, who range from the hapless fool, the brute, the corrupted, and that modern folk hero of South American crime drama, the opportunist (see my Brazil reviews for some different examples). In the background there is also the dogged police captain with unreliable colleagues but rest assured this astrology obsessive is far from your standard policewoman and “Crocodile Tears” is far from your standard police procedural.
Books can grab you in different ways and it’s probably true to say that this was initially a bit of slow burner for me at first as the following chapters set the scene behind bars and on the outside. Pay attention though as these are critical for how the novel develops. Similarities have been made to translated fiction by fellow South American writers such as Claudia Piñeiro and Patrícia Melo (who have also had their novels published in English by Bitter Lemon Press) by the German quote on the back cover yet the feel of this novel is quite distinct. The language is gritty and urban, with a transatlantic use of words such as patsy and shiv yet there are also illumining descriptions that must have been a joy to translate, whether it’s the secret late night trips to the refrigerator or the priest’s confession, there are very enjoyable passages that take this novel far out of the ordinary.
One theme that is reminiscent of Piñeiro’s work is the highlighted gap in society between rich and poor. This is very notable as one character compares her own life to that of another woman who shares the same name. It is reminded to us that she holds desires for “houses in Carrasco, gardens, swimming pools, real cars and not this crappy VW Golf”. By contrast another character drives a A6 which he got brought over from Germany upholstered in the most expensive leather much like the protagonist from K Ferari’s “Like Flies From Afar.”
The heist takes place on an armoured vehicle within one of the poorer area of the city, where nothing goes as planned. It is the fastest part of the story and as enjoyable to read as it is implausible to believe. The remainder of the novel dealing with its aftermath where we discover who has survived and who will come out on top. Not only is the novel great fun to read, it’s also a swift and insightful look at another Latin American country. Great praise is yet again due to Bitter Lemon Press for giving so much exposure to crime fiction from these distant lands. Crimes in Translation