4 out of 4 stars
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Wish To Die by Robert Walton is an archaeological adventure featuring Harry Thursday, an ongoing series character in Walton's books. In January 1945, Germany's Third Reich attempts to warehouse expensive stolen artworks in Wildenhoff Castle as they retreat from the advancing Russians in the last stages of World War II. Ukrainian art expert Tatiana Kul’Zhenko is selected to extract 900 paintings and 450 icons from three Russian museums in Kyiv to ship to Königsberg. As the Nazis retreat, they take what they can, destroying much of what they cannot carry.
To prevent this, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Secret Service place spies within the SS's Kunstschutz, the German Army Art Protection. SS-Hauptsturmführer Theo Möller is one such spy. One prize of particular value to Erich Koch, Oberpräsident of East Prussia and Reichskommissar of Ukraine, is the Russian Amber Room, originally a gift from Prussian Emperor Fredrick William I to Russian Tsar Peter the Great. They dismantle its six thousand tonnes of amber, ship them to Königsberg, and reassemble them. As Germany flees, they break down the Amber Room again, pack it into forty-seven crates, and move it once more. Ultimately, they intend it to reach Weimar, Germany. It never makes it...
Walton's writing is strong, crisp and easy to read. His description creates great atmosphere: "A heavy fog crept eerily through the forest...The smell of diesel exhaust permeated the air...Here and there a crooked lamppost tried to push a dim light through the fog. Creaking iron rails moaned in the night..." Another excellent example is: "An old, crooked pear tree, bearded with dead grapevines that clung to it like webs in a forgotten room, stood nearby." The book is full of great writing like this. There is also some innovative character description: "His blunt nose looked like the backside of a pig sitting in his thick mustache" and: "He remembered Uncle Ted as a desultory man, unable to make a clear point, seemingly distracted, and perhaps unkeeled."
The editing in this book is exceptional. I found only three typographical errors in the entire book: the word "rouge" instead of "rogue", a missing hyphen on "fist-pumped", and a missing quotation mark on page 190. Otherwise, punctuation is spot-on and paragraphs correctly restricted to one character's actions and speech during exchanges of dialogue. The plot is intricate with several twists, and important details are "drip-fed" to the reader nicely throughout the narrative, revealing pieces of the puzzle over time. The dialogue and behaviours feel realistic and true to the characters.
Aside from the three errors, I found only two other minor issues to make suggestions on. Walton puts the thoughts of characters in the same quotation marks as dialogue, which is a little confusing to follow if you assume they are speaking before the attribution afterward clarifies it. It might work better to use italics instead. For example: "'What kind of idiot would do that?' Harry wondered." This could be: "What kind of idiot would do that? Harry wondered." One sentence in the book is also an obvious sentence fragment: "Ricocheting bullets in hot pursuit." It didn't sound right to me, and I think it might be better if worded: "Bullets ricocheted in hot pursuit."
Overall, Wish To Die is an excellent adventure thriller worth 4 out of 4 stars. The plot and characters are strong and the editing is top-notch. The negatives listed above are all extremely minor and easily fixed. I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to fans of archaeological adventure stories, especially those who like tales based on international intrigue rooted in Nazi activities during World War II.
Wish to Die
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