An abrupt change of pace from the Chilean author of The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (not reviewed), this is a swiftly paced suspense thriller that adapts the rhetoric of Raymond Chandler to the genre of international intrigue. During WW II, a pair of German policemen steal and hide a cache of precious medieval coins (known as ``the collection of the Wandering Crescent''). More than half a century later, two parallel searches for this treasure are set in motion—by the crippled thief whose partner absconded to South America with the coins soon after the war ended, and by a furtive remnant of the German Democratic Republic's intelligence-gathering bureau. The latter organization sends Frank Galinsky, a burnt-out former intelligence officer, to do its bidding. His rival—and the novel's only fully-developed character—is Juan Belmonte, a weary ex-Sandinista guerrilla living in exile in Hamburg, who bears the same name as a famous bullfighter—and also the annoying opprobrium of being continually mistaken for a Turk. Belmonte is a cynical survivor, with submerged personal reasons both pushing him from and drawing him toward his homeland, and the possessor of a sardonic noir-ish mode of expression that's straight out of 1930s Warner Brothers melodramas (for example, this thumbnail observation of a peripheral character: ``He was short and tubby, and I've seen clams with longer necks''). The story marches along smartly and breezily, enlivened by Belmonte's bilious charm. But its other characters are dull dogs by comparison, and its resolution—complete with a melodramatic climactic confrontation and a last-second rescue—is strictly formula stuff. Capably written, intermittently entertaining, and undoubtedly destined for the screen.
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