The Barnes & Noble Review
Steve Berry's debut novel concerns the true story of the fascinating Amber Room, an extraordinary set of intricately carved panels that were looted from St. Petersburg by Nazi forces during World War II and later vanished under mysterious circumstances. This powerful thriller uses real-life events to weave an enigmatic tale that will hook the reader from the opening chapters.
When Rachel Cutler's father, a concentration camp survivor, is killed in Europe, she and her ex-husband, Paul, find themselves in the midst of a deadly art rivalry between sinister forces. The intriguing premise goes a long way, as secrets left over from the Holocaust suddenly spring to light and the search is on again for the rare Baltic amber.
Descriptive, vivid, and well detailed, The Amber Room ably employs the plot device of the amateur "spy" caught way over his head in a realm of political intrigue. Brutality and murder abound as the story progresses and the suspense builds. Berry's scrupulous research adds plenty of interesting elements about the legendary treasure, other famous pieces of art, and snatches of world history. Expertly plotted and full of slick action, this forceful first novel bodes well for this author on the rise. Tom Piccirilli
First-time novelist Berry weighs in with a hefty thriller that's long on interesting research but short on thrills. Atlanta judge Rachel Cutler and ex-husband Paul are divorced but still care for each other. Rachel's father, Karol Borya, knows secrets about the famed Amber Room, a massive set of intricately carved panels crafted from the precious substance and looted by Nazis during WWII from Russia's Catherine Palace. The disappearance of the panels, which together formed a room, remains one of the world's greatest unsolved art mysteries. Borya's secret gets him killed as two European industrialists/art collectors go head to head in a deadly race to find the fabled room. Searching for Borya's killer, Rachel and Paul bumble their way to Europe, where their naivet triggers more deaths. Berry has obviously done his homework, and he seems determined to find a place for every fact he's unearthed. The plot slows for descriptions of various art pieces, lectures and long internal monologues in which characters examine their innermost feelings and motives in minute detail, while also packing in plenty of sex and an abundance of brutal killings. A final confrontation between all the principals ends in a looming Bavarian castle where Rachel is raped. All the right elements are in place, but the book is far too long and not as exciting as the ingredients suggest. Readers may end up wishing Berry had written a nonfiction account of the fascinating story of the Amber Room and skipped the fictional mayhem. Agent, Pam Ahearn. (Sept.) Forecast: The Amber Room has been in the news again lately (a long New Yorker piece on its history ran earlier this year), because the panels are presently being re-created for the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg this year. The attention may spark interest in Berry's debut, but less-than-stellar word of mouth may cause sales to peak early. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Berry's debut novel is the second thriller in recent years (after Jonathan Harris's Seizing Amber) to deal with the legendary Amber Room, a magnificent work of art that the Germans looted from the Russians during World War II and has since been lost. Berry tells the story of two "Acquisitors," Christian Knoll and Suzanne Danzer, who are competing to find the room's sumptuous amber panels and exquisitely crafted furnishings. The wealthy collectors they work for belong to a club called the Retrievers of Lost (i.e., stolen) Antiquities. Complicating matters are Rachel and Paul Cutler, ex-spouses with a prickly relationship. Rachel is the daughter of Karol Borya, one of the last men still living who may know the fate of the Amber Room. When he is murdered, Rachel and Paul set out to discover the truth and find themselves growing closer as their own fate hangs in the balance. The author's thorough research into the art world dominates the story; even in the most desperate action scenes, Berry doesn't hesitate to inform the reader about the architectural surroundings and other objets d'art. (Unless you're an expert, keep your art dictionary handy.) Though the novel is uneven in pace, with frequent shifts in viewpoint and occasionally forced plot developments, the intriguing story and engaging characters are vivid enough to merit a recommendation to most popular collections. Art lovers, in particular, will enjoy the wealth of descriptive material. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/03.]-Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A hotheaded Georgia judge and her probate lawyer husband do battle with a gang of rapacious art collectors and their murderous gofers, in a first novel by a Georgia trial lawyer. Everybody's after the amber room, the eye-popping paneled chamber stripped from its suburban St. Petersburg palace by the Nazis in the fading days of the Reich. Not the most practical living space, you understand, but unique, having been crafted from micro-thin layers of the best Baltic amber by the best Baltic craftsmen. Passed from autocrat to autocrat, Hitler wanted it. Göring wanted it. The Allies nearly bombed it. And Karol Borya, a kindly Ukrainian concentration camp survivor, father of that hotheaded judge in Atlanta, is one of the only people in the world with a clue as to where the pretty but dismantled and disappeared room may be, having been witness to the torture of its last known possessors. Alas for old men with old secrets in thrillers, there's always a pretty assassin waiting in the kitchen to pump you for your knowledge. Here, the villainess is sexy Suzanne Danzer, beloved employee of Czech billionaire, Nazi industrialist, and Soviet collaborator Ernst Loring, member of an ultra-exclusive clutch of stupendously wealthy gents who specialize in collecting stolen masterpieces. And while Suzanne is at Borya's backdoor, Christian Knoll, yet another employee of yet another supercollector is at the front. They both want to pick his brain in the most unpleasant way, hoping to pin down the whereabouts of that Tsarist treasure. Pumped serially for his secrets by the evil duo, poor old Karol gets heaved downstairs to his death, a demise that will drag his daughter Rachel and ex-son-in-law Paul from thecomforts of metropolitan Atlanta to the corrupt corners of Middle Europe. Stilettos fly and silenced bullets plunk, but the plucky legal team, reunited by their special mission, dodge death and poke their noses into darkened churches, spooky tunnels, secret passageways and hidden rooms. Will they live to see their beloved children? Or that rock-lined room? Is the Pope Catholic? Agent: Pam Ahearn/The Ahearn Agency
From the Publisher
Praise for The Amber Room
“Sexy, illuminating, and confident. The Amber Room is my kind of thriller—a globe-trotting treasure hunt packed with exotic locales, sumptuous art, and ruthless villains. Steve Berry writes with the self-assured style of a veteran.”
Author of The Da Vinci Code
“Magnificently engrossing, with wonderful characters and a plot that speeds, twists, and turns. Pure intrigue, pure fun.”
“The Amber Room is a riveting cat-and-mouse game set within the world of international art thieves, assassins, and age-old rivalries. From the opening shocker set in a Nazi concentration camp to the chilling battle within a mountain-top castle, Steve Berry carries the reader on a harrowing journey into a past best left undiscovered. Not to be missed!”
Author of Amazonia and Ice Hunt
“Steve Berry has written a tremendous first novel. He weaves vivid details into a lightning quick read.”
Author of Silent Partner
“Vivid, fast-moving, beautifully imagined, convincing!”
Author of Black Storm and Fire on the Waters
Read an Excerpt
Atlanta, Georgia Tuesday, May 6, the present, 10:35 a.m.
Judge Rachel Cutler glanced over the top of her tortoiseshell glasses. The lawyer had said it again, and this time she wasn’t going to let the comment drop. “Excuse me, counselor.”
“I said the defendant moves for a mistrial.”
“No. Before that. What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a sir.”
“Quite correct, Your Honor. I apologize.”
“You’ve done that four times this morning. I made a note each time.”
The lawyer shrugged. “It seems such a trivial matter. Why would Your Honor take the time to note my simple slip of the tongue?”
The impertinent bastard even smiled. She sat erect in her chair and glared down at him. But she immediately realized what T. Marcus Nettles was doing. So she said nothing.
“My client is on trial for aggravated assault, Judge. Yet the court seems more concerned with how I address you than with the issue of police misconduct.”
She glanced over at the jury, then at the other counsel table. The Fulton County assistant district attorney sat impassive, apparently pleased that her opponent was digging his own grave. Obviously, the young lawyer didn’t grasp what Nettles was attempting. But she did. “You’re absolutely right, counselor. It is a trivial matter. Proceed.”
She sat back in her chair and noticed the momentary look of annoyance on Nettles’s face. An expression that a hunter might give when his shot missed the mark.
“What of my motion for mistrial?” Nettles asked.
“Denied. Move on. Continue with your summation.”
Rachel watched the jury foreman as he stood and pronounced a guilty verdict. Deliberations had taken only twenty minutes.
“Your Honor,” Nettles said, coming to his feet. “I move for a presentence investigation prior to sentencing.”
“I move that sentencing be delayed.”
Nettles seemed to sense the mistake he’d made earlier. “I move for the court to recuse itself.”
“On what grounds?”
“To whom or what?”
“To myself and my client.”
“The court has shown prejudice.”
“With that display this morning about my inadvertent use of sir.”
“As I recall, counselor, I admitted it was a trivial matter.”
“Yes, you did. But our conversation occurred with the jury present, and the damage was done.”
“I don’t recall an objection or a motion for mistrial concerning the conversation.”
Nettles said nothing. She looked over at the assistant DA. “What’s the State’s position?”
“The State opposes the motion. The court has been fair.”
She almost smiled. At least the young lawyer knew the right answer.
“Motion to recuse denied.” She stared at the defendant, a young white male with scraggly hair and a pockmarked face. “The defendant shall rise.” He did. “Barry King, you’ve been found guilty of the crime of aggravated assault. This court hereby remands you to the Department of Corrections for a period of twenty years. The bailiff will take the defendant into custody.”
She rose and stepped toward an oak-paneled door that led to her chambers. “Mr. Nettles, could I see you a moment?” The assistant DA headed toward her, too. “Alone.”
Nettles left his client, who was being cuffed, and followed her into the office.
“Close the door, please.” She unzipped her robe but did not remove it. She stepped behind her desk. “Nice try, counselor.”
“Earlier, when you thought that jab about sir and ma’am would set me off. You were getting your butt chapped with that half-cocked defense, so you thought me losing my temper would get you a mistrial.”
He shrugged. “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
“What you have to do is show respect for the court and not call a female judge sir. Yet you kept on. Deliberately.”
“You just sentenced my guy to twenty years without the benefit of a presentence hearing. If that isn’t prejudice, what is?”
She sat down and did not offer the lawyer a seat. “I didn’t need a hearing. I sentenced King to aggravated battery two years ago. Six months in, six months’ probation. I remember. This time he took a baseball bat and fractured a man’s skull. He’s used up what little patience I have.”
“You should have recused yourself. All that information clouded your judgment.”
“Really? That presentence investigation you’re screaming for would have revealed all that, anyway. I simply saved you the trouble of waiting for the inevitable.”
“You’re a fucking bitch.”
“That’s going to cost you a hundred dollars. Payable now. Along with another hundred for the stunt in the courtroom.”
“I’m entitled to a hearing before you find me in contempt.”
“True. But you don’t want that. It’ll do nothing for that chauvinistic image you go out of your way to portray.”
He said nothing, and she could feel the fire building. Nettles was a heavyset, jowled man with a reputation for tenacity, surely unaccustomed to taking orders from a woman.
“And every time you show off that big ass of yours in my court, it’s going to cost you a hundred dollars.”
He stepped toward the desk and withdrew a wad of money, peeling off two one-hundred-dollar bills, crisp new ones with the swollen Ben Franklin. He slapped both on the desk, then unfolded three more.
One bill dropped.
The second bill fell.
The third Ben Franklin fluttered down.
From the Hardcover edition.