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Crime mystery set in Montevideo

1st March 2023

The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende Tr: Tim Gutteridge. Crime mystery set in MONTEVIDEO.

Crime mystery set in Montevideo

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.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter Mercedes Rosende @mujerequivocada and the translator Tim Gutteridge @TimG_translator

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