latest bitter lemon





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