The Amber Room by Steve Berry

September 8, 2009

amber room Plot summary (with spoilers): The Amber Room is a collection of amber panels that used to adorn the walls of Peter the Great. The gift of King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the room was of singular beauty and craftsmanship, as each panel was carved with intricate designs and inlaid with precious gems in some places. The panels were seized by Nazis during World War II, dismantled and packed into a shipping box or three, and then supposed lost forever when the Nazis scrambled to hide their stolen loot as the war came to an end.

This historical Amber Room — the deconstructed panels, at any rate — are the subject of Steve Berry’s novel. He essentially sets the book up as a treasure hunt, with four different groups of people all after the same thing: McCoy, a North Carolina redneck and professional treasure hunter; Christian Knoll, a professional “Acquisitor” or art thief who steals black market treasures that have themselves been stolen; Suzanne Danzer, another Acquisitor who works for a rival boss; and Rachel and Paul Cutler, the requisite “regular folks” who get in way over their heads.

Rachel’s father Karol Borya was held at a Nazi concentration camp during the war, and heard things about the location of the Amber Room. He and friend Danya Chapaev might be the only two living souls left who can point the way to the treasure. Knoll manages to track down Borya in Atlanta, and kills the man after not getting the right information out of him. Rachel had often heard her father speak about the Amber Room, and decides to go to Germany to try to track down Chapaev and perhaps learn something about the treasure. But she’s intercepted by Knoll, and is in great danger.

Paul, alerted to the situation by Danzer — who had followed Knoll — decides to go to Germany to protect Rachel. From there, the novel focuses on the race to track down clues to the Amber Room’s location. The characters all have their lives threatened at some point, as they encounter each other time and time again.

Liked:

  • I’d never heard of the Amber Room prior to this novel, but its history sounded interesting. Maybe Berry should have just written a nonfiction work instead of trying to work everything into a thriller.

Disliked:

  • I listened to the audiobook version. The reader used the same voice for Knoll and Rachel’s father, so in their scene together, it was hard to distinguish who was talking. Kind of strange, since one was an elderly Russian man and the other was a far younger German. Would they really have the same accent?! How annoying!
  • It seems that Berry wrote this book with the film adaptation in mind. I mean, what was with all the title cards telling the time and place of the action for the upcoming scene? This was especially a problem at the beginning, where the setting shifted around so much that it was difficult to get a feel for the storyline and to get into the plot.
  • I absolutely hated Berry’s writing style, particularly the way he had the German speakers say “und” instead of “and” every single time the word came up in their dialogues. Yeah, yeah, we get it: they’re German. Do you have to friggin’ bludgeon us over the head with that fact? If it were one character, I could excuse it as Berry wanting to give him/her a recognizable quirk. But, no. It was every. single. one. Again, totally annoying.
  • And what was with Berry having Rachel refer to her father as “Daddy”? This was a 40-something woman, for god’s sake! Maybe she would call him that to his face, but certainly she wouldn’t refer to him as “Daddy” when talking to perfect strangers. It’s like I could hear Berry saying, “Oh, I’ve got a great idea about how to show that Rachel is a study in contrasts! On the one hand, she’ll be a tough-as-nails judge. On the other, I’ll have her call her father “Daddy” to show that there’s still a vulnerable little girl inside!” Gag me. 🙄
  • There was absolutely no tension or sense of urgency in The Amber Room. There were all these different groups of people supposedly “racing” to find the treasure, but Berry provided exactly zero tension along the way. This was about as boring a treasure hunt book as I could possibly imagine.
  • I thought it was totally laughable that Knoll was so preoccupied with sex throughout the book. You’d think he’d be focused on the task at hand, but no. And was the rape really necessary? WTF was that for? It shouldn’t have been included, IMO.
  • God, I hate it when regular people like Rachel and Paul manage to outlast trained professionals like Knoll and Danzer. Yeah, right. And Rachel, who had never fired a gun in her life before, just happened to drill Knoll even though she was dazed and woozy from her beating/rape? Whatever.

Rating:
The Amber Room: A Novel by Steve Berry is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. It was filled with hateful, uninteresting, unbelievable characters, a plot that went nowhere and generated zero tension, and a B-movie conclusion that will surely cause copious amounts of eye-rolling. I give this book 1 star out of 5.

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