Intriguing mix of shadowy villains and history

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By Pat Wellington

Steve Berry brings us a chilling treasure hunt based on a true historical treasure stolen by the Nazis at the close of WW II in 1945. The Amber Room was a collection of priceless panels made of Baltic amber and once belonging to the Catherine Palace in Russia.

The book hovers between fiction and non-fiction with the author in notes at the end pointing out which chapters have absolutely accurate information. The ending, he admits, is his own invention.

Atlanta’s Judge Rachel Cutler learns of the Amber Room from tantalizing letters and articles her father left behind after his death. Once a concentration inmate, he learned the secrets surrounding the treasure and the many lives lost pursuing it in the years following the war.

It soon becomes an obsession for Rachel and her ex-husband Paul. And since nothing tests the protagonists’ mettle like transplanting them to foreign soil, the Cutlers travel to Germany and the Czech border.

But first Paul tries futilely to talk her out of this dangerous mission. “She knew exactly how to push his buttons. It was one of the things he most resented about her. ‘Did you read those articles?’ he asked. ‘People have died searching for the Amber Room. Maybe my parents. Maybe not. One thing’s for certain. Your father didn’t want you involved. And you’re way out of your league. What you know about art could fit inside a thimble.’ To which she replied, “Along with your nerve.”

Throwing down the gauntlet works for Rachel because Paul comes aboard. But Paul’s prediction that the two are over their heads will bear fruit.

On the trail to the treasure, they are shadowed by professional killers with the same goal — one a sexy blonde named Suzanne Danzer and a stiletto- wielding man with impeccable aim. They also join forces with others who seem legitimate but aren’t always trustworthy.

Sometimes a reader’s collective memory can spoil a novelist’s attempt at high drama. Wayland McKoy, a North Carolina businessman hired to find the treasure, allows the Cutlers to accompany him with a full video crew for what is supposed to be a ground-breaking discovery — three rusted WW II German transports found deep inside a silver mine believed to contain the amber.

But when the cameras zero in on empty trucks, we’re seeing Geraldo Rivera staring into an empty safe thought to be Capone’s. Some scenes don’t work for old-timers with long memories.

The Amber Room has plenty of cat-and-mouse games with the bad guys who are, unfortunately, so much more interesting than the good ones. And though the writing is inelegant, the weaving of great research and real occurrences with thriller fiction in the mix works on a number of levels.

Recommended for those who’d like something a little different.

News Flash

On Tuesday, Feb. 26, as the OTOW Book Club gathered to discuss Steve Berry’s novel, The Amber Room, news flashed across the wires that the actual Amber Room, a Russian art treasure stolen by the Nazis in 1945, has at last been discovered by a German team near their country’s border with the Czech Republic.The Book Club’s facilitator, Pat Wellington said, “Timing doesn’t get any better than this.”

Pat Wellington is a retired English professor, freelance writer, and faculty member of On Top of the World’s Master the Possibilities, who shares her passion for books with others.