Friday, December 26, 2008

Title Ten: The Amber Room by Steve Berry

Two of my favorite genres are historical fiction and mystery, and Steve Berry has created a niche for himself by fusing the two. I've read The Romanov Prophecy, which is based on the lingering belief that Anastasia Romanov did not perish along with the rest of her family and that an heir to the Russian throne still exists; I've also enjoyed The Third Secret, the title of which refers to the three prophecies given to three children at Fatima by the Blessed Mother. Berry takes the fundamentals of historical events and then weaves mystery around them.

The Amber Room focuses on the looting and theft of art and other treasures by the Nazis in WWII. According to the legend, the famed Amber Room in St. Petersburg was dismantled, packed, and shipped off to the mountains of Germany for hiding in the spring of 1945; it has never been found since, although a re-creation was unveiled at the Catherine Palace a few years ago. For the purposes of the novel, Berry creates a strange underground world where collectors and aficionados send their hired guns around the world to steal objets d'art that are long presumed destroyed or irretrievable. The Holy Grail of these is the Amber Room itself. When her father is killed by one of these Acquisitors, Atlanta judge Rachel Cutler and her ex-husband Paul are pulled into the rollercoaster search after finding letters and references to his involvement in the Amber Room mystery tucked in with his will.

Berry has certainly done his research, but the story is hobbled by too many characters, too much art history, and a winding narrative. The political subtexts are confusing and distracting; we know that the Nazis and Stalin were bad, Communism was a failure, and that the fall of the Iron Curtain created sociopolitical issues that are still affecting the world today, so stop grinding the details into my brain. The anvillicious and florid descriptions of the landscapes of Germany and the Czech Republic are annoying, and the underlying romantic conflict between the Cutlers is superfluous fluff.

While the fate of the real Amber Room has never been discovered, Berry makes certain to tie everything up in a neat package. There are a few minor twists towards the end, but I really just kept plugging away at the novel to find out what his conclusion would be. I could have cheated and just skipped to the end, but when I start a book I finish it. I guess that's all the recommendation that you need.

For a brief but informative summary on the history of the real Amber Room, check out


Julie said...

Wait...Nazis and Stalin were BAD?!


Nicole said...

Cheeky bitch.