Author: Roberto Kusminsky 
Publisher: Krillpress
ISBN: 9780982144343

Buenos Aires is the most European city among the South American capitals.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that like most European cities, it has a long tradition of fine art and music, it is a melting pot of immigrants from the continent, and has a population that generally possesses a joie de vivre in spite of hard times.  The curse is that, like most European cities, it has often been afflicted with the disease of fascism.  Other South American countries have also been afflicted, suffering at the hands of several dictators—Stroessner in Paraguay, Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, Pinochet in Chile, along with more recent additions like Chavez in Venezuela.  None were as flamboyant as the inimitable Juan Peron nor as deadly as the brutal and paranoid military junta that eventually followed him.  Mothers still congregate in the plazas of the city, looking for their missing sons and daughters.

Southern South America—Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brasil and Chile—was a haven for the Nazis that managed to escape a rightfully vengeful Europe at the end of World War II.  Again, Argentina under Peron, led the way.  Thus it was not surprising that Mossad found Eichmann living in Buenos Aires in 1960.  This is the start of Roberto Kusminsky’s story.

The setting of Kusminsky’s story, though, is the dark world of illicit art trade.  While the Nazi’s looting of public and private art collections, particularly those belonging to people the Nazis were sure would die in concentration camps, is the most notable historically, this trade still goes on, representing a damning vanity for those that buy stolen art and a disease not unlike the trade in illicit drugs for those that move the stolen goods.  Even today this goes on as some rich individual will go to any extremes to own a famous work of art.  In March, 1990 two men robbed the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here in Boston removing works of art valued around $300 million (their cultural value is priceless, of course).  This is one of the top ten art crimes as listed by the FBI’s art crime team.

In this setting we are introduced to the protagonist, Gerson Asher, a Jewish ER doctor from New York City.  He is an ex-SEAL with a hot temper that spent six months in military prison for nearly killing an insensitive comrade.  While he seems to be a walking contradiction, his resume guarantees that he will be able to handle everything Kusminsky throws at him.  Gerson’s uncle Max discovers a Nazi treasure trove of stolen art in a cave on his land in northern Argentina, not far from the fabled Iguazu Falls (which make Niagara look like some Disney theme park attraction, by the way).  Max is killed shortly after arriving at JFK, but not before leaving a trail of clues specifically designed for Gerson so that he can find the stolen masterpieces and return them to their rightful owners.

In an effort to decode one of the clues based on the amino acids of the genetic code, Gerson meets Nicole Mengano, of the hospital’s genetics lab, who is, of course, beautiful and a fitting heroine for our swarthy hero.  It turns out that she is tough and knows how to shoot all kinds of firearms with the best of them, a real poster lady for the NRA.  Thus begins a wild journey to and through Argentina as our two heroes follow Uncle Max’s clues.  A mix of Mossad agents, local Jewish activists, and a whole evil gang of Nazi sympathizers and thugs fill out the cast of characters.

Kusminsky obviously knows his material, plots well, and includes the right mix of suspense, action and sex to keep any Hollywood producer happy.  I found his novel to be an entertaining read, but I have some reservations.

My first objection is that the Nazi conspiracy story has become a cliché over the years.  Yes, they were bad dudes, but it’s hard to place the conspiracy in modern times when it is the Nazi’s children that carry on their parents’ evil doings.  I just don’t buy it.  Deaver, for example, with Garden of Beasts (one of his best works), went back in time to solve this problem.  Forsyth’s The Odessa File was written long enough ago that old Nazis were still around.  In other words, there are plenty of novels that have similar settings.  It is difficult to come up with something new and refreshing about such a clichéd theme.

My objection is mitigated by the fact that Kusminsky identifies so well with his material that I suspect that he may have suffered through Argentina’s anti-Semitism en carne propia, or worse, through events similar to those in his novel.  While I dearly love my Latin American friends in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, and Brasil, along with most of their culture, these countries befriended the Nazis and have a history of being anti-Semitic.  Anti-Semitism seems to go hand-in-hand with fascism, even in our own country.

As usual, there are a few nits to pick which may be rectified in the final version (I read the ARC).  First, an editor’s hand is sorely needed, especially for those words and awkward grammatical constructions not caught by the usual computer tools.  Second, the dialog is often stilted to the point where sometimes I asked myself: would X really speak like this?  Especially when X is a hired goon!

My last objection is probably the most important: I implied above that Hollywood would find this novel to their liking.  In fact, that is the problem.  The reason movies made from books often suffer is that they cannot probe down into the weeds of human behavior like the words on the page can.  I never really got to know Gerson and Nicole.  In fact, through the string of clues, I felt that I knew Uncle Max much better.  He has depth of personality, something the other characters just don’t possess.  Moreover, both Gerson and Nicole are too prepared to handle what the bad guys have in store for them.  Gerson’s only defect is his temper, Nicole’s her stereotypical female weaknesses.  It doesn’t seem real.  While this novel would indeed make a good action movie, it left me somewhat unfulfilled as a work of fiction.

Nevertheless we do have an interesting yarn here filled with lots of action embedded in a twisty plot.  Krill Press, a small printing house, does a great job in bringing such page-turners to the attention of the reading public, works that the big publishing conglomerates are not willing to take a chance on.  I congratulate them and Roberto Kusminsky and wish them much success with this endeavor.



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