"Death in Amber" by Dean Fetzer

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In “Death in Amber” Dean Fetzer offers a yarn that includes mystery, intrigue, a priceless and unique work of art, thieving Nazis, and strong elements of the supernatural. And a hero the like of which I have never run across before.

Mr. Fetzer focuses on the Amber Room, the unique masterpiece of Baroque art – an ornate room built entirely out of amber and given to Czar Peter the Great by Prussian King Frederick. It was a highly prized pawn in Russian-German diplomacy at the outset of World War II, and serves as the jumping-off point in this mystery. This story, too, has unique elements that set it apart from other mysteries. Set in the near future, it features Jaared Sen, a blind investigator with special powers of perception and great supernatural fighting and surviving skills. In an alternate narrative thread, we have Wolf and his crew of specialized thieves. And lording it over all are the supernatural creatures themselves.

The story progresses through these two threads: the difficult investigations on both sides go forward side-by-side in alternating sections, and these sections are one or two pages long. It took me a while to acclimate myself to this jarring scheme, maybe a third of the book, but after that, I got into the rhythm. Unfortunately, the mysteries unfold with such slowness that the first three quarters of the book feel like one long tedious drudge. Lack of reasonable pace is a problem here. Toward the end of the book, where our two protagonists meet, I built up a hope that they might join forces, but, that was not the payoff. The payoff was a brief interaction between Sen the supercop and an extremely mysterious non-human female character wherein Sen’s senses are overwhelmed by the supernatural properties of the Amber Room. As interesting as all this sounds, it just doesn’t become airborne for me, it never leaves the plane of the mundane; ultimately finishing the book felt like completing an exercise.

One part of the narrative deserves mention: in the midst of the plodding setups of our mysteries, we have Alicia the medical examiner and her professor husband. The husband is murdered, a gratuitous bit of violence in an unnecessary plot element, but Mr. Fetzer’s handling of Alicia’s shock and grief, and of her steadfast friends’ intervention in her life at this horrific time, is sensitive, properly-paced, and utterly believable. It makes me think Mr. Fetzer can handle these emotions really well, and I would be interested in a book of his that dealt more closely with elements like these.

Overall, though, “Death in Amber” moves too slowly for me, and its potentially high-voltage supernatural elements beg for more depth and background.
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