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  • Reviews The Hand That Feeds You
  • The Hand That Feeds You
Reviews The Hand That Feeds You

STARRED PW REVIEW: "In this darkly humorous caper, the terrific sequel to 2021’s Crocodile Tears, Uruguayan author Rosende expertly juggles the different points of view of various amoral characters. From a mistaken phone call, poetry translator Ursula López gets caught up in the chaos of an armored truck heist gone wrong in the back streets of Montevideo and escapes with Diego, one of the inept robbers, and a van loaded with the loot. After the two split up, the anxiety-ridden Diego disappears with the cash, terrified he’ll end up back up in prison. Meanwhile, corrupt Inspector Clemen, who planned and mismanaged the robbery, and Antinucci, a shady attorney who helped arrange the inexperienced crew’s release from prison, are frantically seeking the money. They must recover the cash and continue diverting the suspicions of their superiors and the beleaguered Capt. Leonilda Lima, who’s on Ursula’s trail. Infectious characters match the playfully woven narrative. This complex portrait of social and political anxieties within Montevideo is sure to win Rosende new fans."--Publishers Weekly


An Unsparing Portrait of Montevideo: "This is a novel about ruins. Ruins of people, ruins of places, and the ruins of a genre. The Hand that Feeds You is a heist thriller, a type of crime fiction so familiar to audiences worldwide that it has become a narrative rundown and overburdened by its own tropes. Yet ruins, like old memories, as one character later in Rosende’s novel observes, have a persistence to them, as if acting as a reminder that the past were not altogether past. They are the remains of a past that has not and will not die. The Hand That Feeds You is a deft and surprising novel that takes the conventions of the heist thriller and subverts them at every turn. The book is the second of a series centred on the character Úrsula López, a middle-aged Uruguayan translator turned bandit who prior to the events of the story would only leave her home to buy groceries and attend a regular weight-watchers meeting in her neighbourhood. The first book in the series, Crocodile Tears (Bitter Lemon Press, 2021), sets up the heist: a group of corrupt officials and ex-convicts plan to rob an armoured truck while it passes through downtown Montevideo.

The robbery goes awry and Úrsula becomes embroiled in its aftermath, taking advantage of the chaos to steal the money from the truck for herself. This is the moment in which The Hand That Feeds You begins as a direct sequel to Crocodile Tears. Úrsula flees, but is pursued by the corrupt lawyer Antinucci, who serves as the novel’s principal antagonist and one of the organisers of the heist. Described as a man whose smile appears as a horizontal grimace, he is a religious zealot who is willing to kill without hesitation but will immediately consider the need to go to confession if he takes the Lord’s name in vain while driving through Montevideo’s twisting streets. His ruthlessness and relentless drive to recover the money from the ambush lends the story with an urgency that intensifies the book’s cinematic pacing by confronting Úrsula with such a brutal adversary. Antinucci is a two-dimensional villain, the blatant contradiction between his faith and his actions being his most evident character trait throughout the novel. However, his moral hypocrisy and cruelty elevate the stakes of the book and he serves as an appropriate foil to Úrsula. The other characters are more nuanced and complex, often subverting the clichés of traditional crime fiction and the detective genre. There is the private investigator whose name constantly leads her clients to believe she is man, the sociopathic member of the heist crew from Crocodile Tears who spends most of the novel trapped in a coma, and the police officer, Captain Leonilda Lima, whose long list of failures she is unable to reverse.

Tim Gutteridge’s translation is excellent, capturing the fine edge of Rosende’s humor in her writing and the succinct, cutting nature of her descriptions. His translation conserves the subtleties of Uruguayan rioplatense Spanish as well as its bluntness and brutality, encapsulated in one of the most beautiful chapters of the book composed entirely of questions that the narrator poses as a means to attack and probe Úrsula, acting as her conscience and forcing her to return to a past she desperately wishes to leave behind. With phrases in Spanish that have no direct translation in English, such as the original title of the novel, Qué ganas de no verte nunca más which roughly means “How I long to never see you again”, Gutteridge remains faithful to the hardboiled tone of Rosende’s writing by opting for another phrase from the novel: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. With these choices, he effectively reproduces Rosende’s tone and style as she describes the hole-in-the-wall cafes, the grimy streets, and the decaying plazas of Uruguay’s capital that act as the setting for the novel’s plot.

In this manner, The Hand That Feeds You is also a touching and unsparing portrait of Montevideo as a city that insists on its own exceptionality; the capital of a country that often projects itself as a nation untroubled by the crime and corruption of its neighbors. Mercedes Rosende punctures that illusion both explicitly in the book’s conclusion and implicitly in its story. Those figures of authority who are supposedly in charge of maintaining the country’s prosperity and peace – the lawyers and police commissioners of the narrative – are its villains.
Úrsula, while heroic in her own right, does not punish them nor bring them to justice. That is someone else’s job. Úrsula seeks to do what is right for her. While struggling with the ruins of her own past, she moves forward. Ruins, even when destroyed, paved over, or transformed into a shopping mall, are not so easy to forget. Sometimes the past can be so heavy, so pervasive and so all-encompassing it makes it impossible to imagine a future that could be different, whether in a person’s life or in a literary genre. Rosende’s novel shows that even though time does not heal all things, ruins can be a site for the re-imagination of a future that acknowledges and honours the past, but does not repeat it”.---Sounds and Colours


“Set in Montevideo, Uruguay, from where Mercedes Rosende also hails, The Hand That Feeds You is the sequel to Rosende’s much-lauded Crocodile Tears. Ursula, Rosende’s heroine, is now in possession of all the loot from an armored truck, with robbers, cops, and PIs hot in pursuit. Ursula has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, and given the ineptitude of her pursuers, she’s bound to triumph in the end, but how she does it? Comedic thriller gold.”--CrimeReads


"A provocative, heady, and incredibly smart thriller based in Uruguay detailing the chaos that occurs after a crime. This is a crime thriller with real attitude, it is bold with subtle undertones, and perfect if you’re looking for something a little different. Focusing on the aftermath of an armed robbery in Uruguay, the women here take centre stage, even if the men don’t know it. I clapped my hands with glee when I knew that The Hand that Feeds You was carrying on from where Crocodile Tears left off. I really do recommend that you start at the beginning in order to fully appreciate the journey undertaken by the characters. Mercedes Rosende invites the reader to look beyond the obvious, to the fascinating layers beneath. I love the way she studies the finer points of humanity, finding sorrow and a real depth of feeling as well as the darkest of humour. The translation is again wonderfully on point by Tim Gutteridge, encouraging the unique tone to flow from the pages. The short sharp shocks of chapters rapidly changed viewpoint, always ensuring I was fully alert and engaged. While all the characters feel vibrantly real, Ursula is a particular favourite, and she is handled with thoughtful care and attention. There is such a sense of place, Uruguay sings with intensity. And oh that ending! It made me smile and raise my eyebrows in anticipation. The Hand That Feeds You is a beautifully riotous, yet razor-sharp novel and I’m happy to recommend it heart and soul.” –LoveReading 


Here’s a superior piece of crime writing, written in a punchy, filmic style reminiscent, surprisingly enough, of Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize winning The Promise. But their plots are very different. Set in Montevideo it begins with the attempted robbery of an armoured car, foiled by two other crims, Ursula and Diego, watched and then hunted down by Antinucci the crooked lawyer, all three of whom are pursued separately by a cop and a private detective (both female) – with the book taking us into the minds of each one of them, and the scenes flicking by as in a movie while the hapless Diego disappears with the loot and everyone chases everyone else and he hides in a darkened room until, inevitably, he emerges with the money and everyone goes after Ursula, the unlikely but enjoyable heroine of this madcap introduction to chaotic but equally enjoyable Uruguay. A bonus is, that unlike too many crime novels today, this comes to an unexpected and fine climax, set appropriately enough in a graveyard where ghosts of the past wait to be appeased.”—Crime Time  


HOW to describe The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende (Bitter Lemon Press, £9.99) without resorting to listing its startling events and extraordinary characters? It’s about an armed robbery in Montevideo, in which the people being robbed are armed robbers. It’s a crime caper, a literary novel, a condensed family saga, a comedy and a satire. It’s also a thriller, in which the importance of momentum in the plot is never neglected. I’m reluctant to say more since it’s perhaps the sort of book you’re better coming to without too much forewarning. I haven’t read anything like this in ages, and I loved every page.---Morning Star


“Warmth and the travails of travel, the prospects for those who are ill of waiting for many hours in pain while junior hospital doctors decide whether they fancy doing any work, and the need to stay indoors lest crazed cyclists mow you down on walker-only pavements, turn one’s mind to murder, or at least the fiction thereof: otherwise dear reader you are likely to be arrested for hate crimes for reading this.

Let us start in a city of which I know nothing, Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende (2023, Bitter Lemon Press, £9.99), the translation of a 2019 Spanish original published in Montevideo by a writer, lawyer and journalist, is, at once, magic realism, mordant satire, and a murderous jape. Set in 1971, the cast includes the strongly impressive Ursula Lopez; her more conventional sister; a murderous, totally corrupt and very Catholic creepy lawyer, Antinucci; his crooked police ally; an honest (female) police rival, Captain Leonilda Lima; and Montevideo’s troubled milieux, from crooks to the curious. The city is dystopian, and there is much gloominess as well as stale air. The book deserves reading, carrying you on with its surprises and its air of the unexpected. There is a feel of Pulp Fiction about this fantasy.”---The Critic


“In the mean streets of Montevideo, Uruguay, the robbery of an armoured vehicle goes wrong – which is good news for the intrepid Ursula Lopez, who manages to snatch all the loot and get away… no thanks to her inept companion Diego. Now the failed robbers are on their trail, and so are the police and Ursula’s sister. But Ursula is a woman of great talents and resources and if anyone can get away with this, she can. She’s a murderess with a sense of humour, and practically invisible to the men who dominate the deeply macho society of Uruguay. Translated by Tim Gutteridge, The Hand that Feeds You is sequel to Crocodile Tears, and it comes out on 23 February.”---Crime Fiction Lover


“The Hand That Feeds You is Uruguayan author Mercedes Rosende’s sequel to Crocodile Tears, the thriller that won her the prestigious German literary award LiBeraturpreis in 2019, and it continues the author’s track record of bringing powerful, darkly comic crime novels to her readers. The duo of Rosende and translator Tim Gutteridge work together to fill these pages with characters both strong and deeply flawed—none more so than the protagonist Ursula López—living in the Old Town of Montevideo which, similar to its inhabitants, hides more than it shows. For full blog review LINKThe high octane beginning nails the reader into their seat in Rosende’s theatre; the narrative feels cinematic throughout, with the author always adept in choosing what to spotlight, what to lampshade, when to pan out, and when to zoom in. The narrator is all-knowing, telling us what is happening and what will happen in the same sentence, but also proves adept at knowing when to let the characters speak for themselves for the benefit of the reader—a mark of Rosende’s command over her prose’s flow. There are many places where the focus shifts from the action to the characters, integral in showing the individual states of mind:  

We see her face in close-up: she is flushed, and perspiration is starting to accumulate around her open, smiling mouth. She is lightly made up, just enough to accentuate her beauty. She has taken great care over her clothes, loose black garments that suit her, even if many people, slaves to ideals of beauty imposed by some mysterious criterion, would say she is a few pounds overweight. 

The people of The Hand That Feeds You are involved in a bank heist gone wrong, and by writing such vivid personal presences, Rosende allows readers time to catch breath between tense moments, all playing out amidst the backdrop of commentary on society and life in Montevideo—the author’s own hometown. In the crime’s aftermath, the robbers, the cop, and the lawyer who is behind the whole thing become engaged in a game of cat and mouse with Ursula—who drops in at an opportune moment to make away with the money. 

The language does not try to override the plot in importance and impact (there isn’t much need for ornate style in a page-turner that has one holding one’s sides and breath in equal measure) but it has peculiarities that again, draw the eye to certain elements that Rosende and Gutteridge want us to focus on. For instance, there is something off about most of the characters that populate the novel. Ursula’s companion Diego, always at the mercy of the people around him and his own fears, “opens his eyes like a ventriloquist’s dummy”; his lawyer, Antinucci, has an unnatural smile and eyes like hard-boiled eggs. Our protagonist Ursula has schizophrenic conversations with her dead father. All these elements lend their characters something unnatural, broken. A touch of the preternatural also hangs over them, be it a haunting, a religion, or a reversion to superstition and a desperation for signs to aid decision-making in moments of stress.  

These details are reproduced by Tim Gutteridge for the English reader through the precise choice of single words like “avarice” with the fervently religious Antinucci, or entire passages like: “a place that was the haunt of junkies and homeless people who lived in the doorways of abandoned stores, people who wandered like shadows among ruined houses, who installed themselves in empty buildings or in the cement skeletons of half-built structures.” The underbelly of the people and the town go hand in hand, and Rosende lays them all bare. There’s also a theme of age and exhaustion throughout—none of the characters are brimming with the spring of youth; most of the story takes place in the forgotten parts of Montevideo’s Old Town; and there’s a focus on values and faith, on virtues like patience. Yet, this is very much a modern crime novel, where Dark Web transactions help people cover their tracks, and public announcements mechanically urge civilians to head for the nearest exist when guns are fired in shopping malls. 

Despite the gung-ho nature of a violent heist, there isn’t a single, beginning-to-end account of the act itself—even though the timeline is not linear and we revisit the scene more than once. This is astonishing, seeing how the entire book revolves around the people affected directly or indirectly by the incident; the visceral, gripping event only serves as backdrop—like the mentions of unusual weather—never bursting to take centre stage. There are no mere coincidences within the text, however, for Rosende is always in control of what happens on the page, even when days of an Indian summer appear out of nowhere amidst the winter of Montevideo.  

The other aspect that stands out in The Hand That Feeds You is its protagonist; Ursula López’s strong will and composure borders on ruthlessness, embodying all that makes this novel a thrilling read. She does not exercise her will by putting weak men in their place, but by conquering her demons and accepting help from those who either care for her, or are interested in the financial incentive she offers. Rosende shows us how in a world full of lies, scandal and deceit, it is hope—and money—that unites us all.  

Having gone through tough times and now dealing with the baggage of childhood trauma, she has a desire for change. Right at the beginning of the novel, we see evidence of her inner turmoil and restlessness: “In the apartment where I live, there are sighs in dark corners, creaking floorboards, a cold draught blowing across the kitchen worktops.” She is not propelled by the Garra Charrúa—a vivid tenacity—that Uruguayans (especially soccer athletes) claim resides in them all, but is driven instead by her yearning for something positive. Her glimmer of hope manages to urge her past both literal and metaphorical mountains of dirt and rabble—such as the tunnels in which her and her sister crawls through to escape Antinucci and the thugs, who come after her and the money from the heist. These tunnels serve not only as a claustrophobic realism to the novel, but also reverberates with historical significance: they are the same tunnel the inmates of Puna Carretas Prison escaped from in 1971, an incident that sent great waves throughout Uruguay, as Rosende explains in the epilogue.  

While the narrator leads the reader in The Hand That Feeds You, there are no instances where the hold feels forceful or authoritative. You don’t need to swat the voice away to explore this world: “. . . while they enjoy the pause in the conversation, we can look around.” One is happy to maintain that connection, to see a place and its people through the knowing eyes of someone who has been there. The town’s history is amalgamated into the plot, filling in colour between the bold strokes of action. Rosende has always been a champion of writing in her own language—Uruguayan—and about her hometown; in this, The Hand That Feeds You can be read as a dedication to Uruguay, and its perception by both natives and those who have never visited.”----Asymptote 


The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende is a crime fiction novel set in Uruguay — but it’s way more than that. By turns comical and verging on farce, it begins with a violent attack on a security truck delivering money. The twist is that the criminals who masterminded the heist leave empty handed, as the money is hijacked by others. Who really has the money? And were the incompetent criminals the victims of misfortune or have they been duped by others who are cleverer than them?

The book reflects life in Montevideo, Uruguay, which is described in fascinating detail. Really the city is just a scenic backdrop to the action, though, and to the book’s larger-than-life characters.

Our main focus is on Ursula, a middle-aged woman who believes herself to be obese and attends therapy sessions, when her physical fitness is perhaps the least of her problems. She is haunted by her dead father’s constant nagging advice, and she seems oppressed, but she skilfully outwits the other characters in the most surprising ways. We also meet a frustrated police officer, Lima, who can’t solve any crimes because her boss, Clemen, won’t let her; there’s Diego the drugged-up criminal, and Luz, Ursula’s glamorous sister. Antinucci is a corrupt lawyer, whose Catholic faith and rule-bound way of life doesn’t stop him manipulating situations to benefit himself. Then there’s the private detective, Jack, who tries to piece together the mystery of the disappearing money. The characters are original and brilliant: none of them are the stereotypes we might expect them to be.

The storyline is told from a variety of perspectives, but it’s so well done that it isn’t at all confusing. The author adopts an almost confiding narrative, sharing secrets with the reader, and yet the suspense is sustained well throughout. The detailed descriptions are cinematic, but they don’t tell you everything you need to know, in a way that would be impossible in a movie. ‘Have we met this person before?’ we wonder, ‘and if so, who are they?’

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the inertia that affects several of the characters at different times. Far from dampening the excitement, it helps to build tension, and is very cleverly handled. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean! I enjoyed the fact that aspects of the plot centre on the real mass escape of prisoners from a Montevideo jail in 1971, though I felt that this point was somewhat laboured. I found other aspects of the location fascinating, from the Uruguayan tradition of drinking maté through a special straw in the mornings, to the atmospheric description of mausoleum where Ursula’s dead family members are interred, or the modern shopping centre that is a pivotal location.

The book is a sequel, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel without problems. In summary, this is a highly original and thoroughly enjoyable read.”---Tripfiction 


“A second translation into English for the boisterous Ursula López series by Uruguayan author Mercedes Rosende, following on from CROCODILE TEARS. López, albeit a sometimes killer, is no criminal mastermind, benefiting in most instances from the errors and gaffes of others, but like an Elmore Leonard character she triumphs not so much against adversity but against stupidity in this increasingly joyous caper series. A heist attempt against an armoured car in the mean streets of Montevideo turns bad but Ursula and her more hesitant sidekick Diego manage to get hold of all the loot. However, this means that the actual failed robbers are now on their trail. As are both the police and Ursula’s own sister! Positive and gently villainous heroines, combining humor, farce and pathos and a frenetic rhythm evocative of Hiaasen and Tarantino movies make this a sheer delight of an entertainment, with colourful characters on both sides of the societal and legal divide and a splendid evocation of the Montevideo demi world in all its bustling animation, squalor and contradictions. A city that the author evidently adores, even as she is aware of all its faults. Unbridled fun in a zip along translation by Tim Gutteridge.---Crime Fiction


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    Francois Von Hurter
  • The Hand That Feeds You