The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende – blogtour

Translated from the Spanish by Tim Gutteridge

This is the first novel I’ve read by a Uruguayan author. It was superb, and given my recent diet of mainly Argentinian literature when I’ve ventured to South America to read, it had a different feel to books from its neighbour – Uruguay is sandwiched between the northeast of Argentina and Brazil, with Uruguay’s capital city Montevideo facing out to sea past Buenos Aires on the southern side of the Uruguay river delta. Geography lesson over!

After a short prologue entitled ‘The Escape’ in which two women, Ursula and Luz descend into a tunnel underneath a shopping centre to evade capture by someone above, we go back a month to the beginning of this slightly unusual crime novel. Ursula is contemplating the spectre of her deceased Daddy, sitting in his armchair with a drink…

It doesn’t matter what I do, it doesn’t matter how hard I try to please him. Daddy always finds some defect, something to hold against me.

She talks to the spectre telling him of how she took over a heist of an armoured van that went wrong that morning, stealing the cash and escaping with her boyfriend Diego in a van, having shot the Hobo with her gun. She’s going to have a new start with the cash which Diego has hidden. The spectre reproaches her with a look.

“What do you want to say, Daddy? Well, I don’t want to talk any more. Get back to your grave, get back to feeding maggots in that black hole of yours, and don’t come out again.” […]

There will be several chapters in the novel where Ursula talks to her Daddy, or just contemplates a new life without him, marking her out as an unusual protagonist, very different in character to her sister, and an unusual criminal too!

Meanwhile Diego’s problems are many. They’d transferred the money to Ursula’s car and he just parked it and went home while Ursula got rid of the van. Now he has to find a safe place for it, as they’ll come looking for him if the Hobo survived. His cunning plan has a streak of genius about it – he rents another apartment in the same block and takes the money up there in a big suitcase. He can keep an eye on his own one – but of course he hasn’t really worked it all out, they’ll leave people waiting for him – so he’s effectively locked himself into his new pad for as long as it takes for them to lose interest and he can’t phone Ursula, they’ll track him.

The ‘they’ in this case being a corrupt lawyer called Antinucci who arranged the heist, and a corrupt detective, Inspector Clemen, who is in Antinucci’s pocket. Antinucci wants his money. He is desperate to find the woman who hijacked the heist. Antinucci is a man who likes luxury, top of the range cars, and baroque music; he is also devout in that Catholic way that he really believes that confession will absolve him of guilt – guilt at failing to give up smoking, things like that, not guilt at having blown up the armoured van and all the other really bad things he’s done. Clemen is weak in comparison, and he’s worried that Detective Leonilda Lima in his squad suspects something.

There’s one more character to mention, Jack – Jacqueline – a private eye hired by Luz to find out what’s going on with Ursula. Luz, rich, slim, beautiful loves her sister dearly. Jack will find an unlikely ally in Leonilda. Between them, I believe the four women characters could run rings around anyone – this is a feminist heist novel!

The narrative continues up to the moment where Ursula and Luz have to escape, alternating between talking directly to the reader, to straightforward present-tense storytelling concentrating on one or maybe two characters at a time, with occasional episodes from Ursula thinking about Daddy popping up now and then. Although we’ve been privy to a little of how the story ends from the beginning, there is no lack of suspense created as we initially sidle carefully and later race towards the conclusion. We’re cheering Ursula, plus Luz, Leo and Jack on at all times! Rosende ultimately makes Antinucci and Clemen seem ridiculous in their farcical ineptitude, blinkered as they are by desire for the money to further bolster their ill-gotten gains.

All is set against the backdrop of Montevideo which comes alive to be a great supporting act and shows us a complex bustling city full of light and dark. Rosende writes with wit and some dark humour, even when the action is a little gory, and Tim Gutteridge’s translation captures that well. It wasn’t until after I read this book, that I discovered it was the second novel by this author to follow the antics of Ursula. Now I must read Crocodile Tears! However, this book stood fine on its own – there are no real mentions of what came before to spoil the enjoyment. I also hope that we find out what happens to Ursula next – I’d love to read it.

Source: Review copy – thank you! Published by Bitter Lemon Press, paperback, 271 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

This book is also my final read for #ReadIndies month hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy

6 thoughts on “The Hand That Feeds You by Mercedes Rosende – blogtour

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It has that South American literary feel but with some dark humour, liveliness and great women characters. I’ve ordered the first book now.

      • Elle says:

        I’ve barely read any S. American lit and barely read crime, but it’s definitely the way the women characters are written that makes this appealing for me.

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