Cohen (Frozen in Time, 2010) tenders part two of his murder and grand-theft trilogy, a fictionalized story inspired by real events.
The loot that was stolen in the first installment of this series—millions in cash, gold coins and jewelry that two Chilean Navy seamen absconded with after being assigned to guard a bank damaged during Chile’s great earthquake of 1960—continues to leave death in its wake as the action shifts from Antarctica to Chile. The goods are now in the hands of Cap. Roberto Muñoz, also of the Chilean Navy, who dispatches the previous owners in a grizzly but very neatly organized murder, detailed with significant brio by Cohen in the novel’s opening pages. Unfortunately for Muñoz, he has come under the suspicion of his old friend, Cap. Mateo Valderas, and his young sidekick in Internal Affairs, Lt.-Cmdr. Antonio Del Rio. Muñoz and Valderas had been at the naval academy together and knew each other’s minds fairly well, so the stage is set for a leisurely if menacing game of cat and mouse, with Muñoz staying a step ahead of the investigators while taunting Valderas with little clues in the form of rare and valuable coins (Valderas is a numismatics buff). Cohen keeps Valderas in hot pursuit, and there are moments when it appears that Muñoz might be too smart for his own good, but he never surrenders any hard evidence. The extended dialogues between Valderas and Del Rio occasionally lapse into a staged feeling, though they also work well in charting the connections between the dots. Where Cohen fully succeeds is in drawing the complexity of Muñoz’s character. The man is a thief and a murderer and a bully, and Cohen doesn’t let the reader forget that. Yet there is also decency lurking in his designs, and an appealing sense of honor, enough to spark moments of admiration, even as he sits on the beach in Ipanema, stealing looks at his “$50,000 Patek Philippe 18K yellow-gold Genève wrist watch.”
With Muñoz so fully drawn, it will be a pleasure to learn his fate.