THE AMBER ROOM
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 naïveté 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.