Books Magazine

Book Review: the Killing Room by Richard Montanari

By Pamelascott

The Killing Room cover




PAGES: 434


YEAR: 2012




Deepest winter, darkest Philadelphia. 

A murder shocks the frozen city – the most spectacular homicide in its three hundred-year old history: an ex-cop is lured to the basement of an abandoned chapel, wrapped in barbed wire and kept alive for ten days. 

Twenty four hours after the discovery, Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano find another victim in another church, encased in a pristine block of ice. And then a third is forced to swallow stones and suffocates. 

Someone is transforming the city’s cathedrals into killing rooms, someone who is determined to raise hell on earth.   


When she was a young girl, before the night embraced her with its great black wings, and blood became her sacramental wine, she was, in every way, a child of light. To those who knew her in those years, she seemed a studious girl, quiet and polite, given to watching clouds for hours on end, oblivious, as only the very young can be, to the crushing poverty that surrounded her, the chains that had enslaved her kind for five generations.


The Killing Room is a library book. I have only read one other Montanari novel, The Skin Gods, a few years ago. My memory of that novel is hazy. I decided to give him another go. I liked the title and the premise seemed interesting.

The Killing Room is set in Philadelphia. Montanari does a good job at bringing the city to life. The setting felt very real to me. Montanari’s descriptions were very vivid. I could easily picture the sights, sounds, smells and people in my head. I like it when a writer is able to create a real sense of place in their work. It makes it easier to connect with what’s going on and see everything in my head.

The main characters in The Killing Room are the detective investigating the murders.  Montanari gives insight into what they are like outside of work. Kevin Byrne works as a volunteer for a teen outreach programmed called Philly Brothers. Jessica Balzano has a very emotional response when they discover the body of a baby encased in ice because she is a mother. I liked these little insights because they made the characters seem much more human. It was good to see them as more than the police investing a series of terrible murders.

I like the way Montanari explores religion in The Killing Room. The ritual-like murders are committed in abandoned churches and cathedrals. The killer is a bit of a religious fanatic. I personally think religion can be pretty fucked up. I speak from personal experience. I like books that share my viewpoint or offer an alternative, darker view of religion. I think it was bold of Montanari to tackle such a contentious subject the way he does in The Killing Room.

The Killing Room is well written. I can’t fault Montanari for that. He manages to avoid a lot of blood and gore in spite of the gruesome subject matter. I was very moved by his descriptions of some of the murders. The one that sticks out in my memory is the discovery of a newborn baby encased in a block of ice. This section chilled me to the bone. The Killing Room was fast paced and I sped through the pages. I find it very gripping in parts especially the last few chapters as the conclusion approached.

Montanari makes it clear pretty much from the start who the killer is. He doesn’t spell it out in black and white exactly but drops enough massive hints for you to work it out pretty quickly. There are several flashbacks of the lift of a woman called Mary Longstreet known as Ruby. Her father died as he was about to rape her and she is taken in by a traveling preacher who rapes her and gets her pregnant at the age of 14. Montanari makes it pretty clear she is the killer. I figured it out in about five minutes and it didn’t take much effort. This really let down The Killing Room. I didn’t see much point in reading the whole thing when I knew who the villain was and had a pretty good idea what their motive was. The whole point of good fiction is the writer taking you on a journey filled with revelations until the final page. Montanari fails at this.

The Killing Room was well written, the characterisation was okay and Montanari does a good job of building tension and a fast pace. I enjoyed reading this novel. However, I found The Killing Room to be little more than a run-of-the-mill crime novel where detectives investigating the crime are the main characters. There was nothing remarkable about this novel. I felt nothing made it stand out from the millions of other similar crime novels in print. The Killing Room is a formula crime novel. Montanari might as well have been ticking his plot, characters etc from a list. I know some people love this kind of thing. I used to be one of them. James Patterson was once my favorite writer until I realised how lazy and unoriginal he was. I need more than a well-used formula.



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