“ Author: Richard Montanari / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 28 March 2013 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: The Killing Room / ISBN 13: 9780751550207 / ISBN 10: 0751550207 / Alternative EAN: 9780434018932 „
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I've read and reviewed a couple of Montanari novels now and have been quite impressed, so I was looking forward to The Killing Room when I came across it in the library. Fortunately, I wasn't disappointed; although a little convoluted by the end in terms of the ultimate twists of the premise, it was a gripping read and writing in a way that makes you enjoy being immersed in the lives of the characters.
On the cover it reads 'Hear The Footsteps, Feel The Screams...' as the tagline, along with telling us this is from 'The Sunday Times Bestselling Author' to draw us in. This falls in to the crime thriller genre, which I've been hooked on for a while now. The novel is set in the Philadelphia Badlands and features key Montanari characters, so fans of previous novels should have something to familiarise themselves with. Upon opening, we're given a chapter written in the past, telling a tale of a young girl and a travelling man of the church. It sounds a bit sinister and it's obvious it will link somehow to the 'main' premise of the novel.
We're then introduced to Homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, who are partnered on a call out to an abandoned church. Once the pillar of the neighbourhood, this sacred place is now empty and forgotten about, except for the dying body of a man wrapped in barbed wire in the basement. Dead on the scene, the detectives think they have a random murder on their hands, except that a second and third body turn up, all in abandoned churches. It seems all the more less random when Jessica receives a cryptic phone call, but can make very little sense of it. It seems there may be clues hidden in each crime scene as to where the next body will be, but being incredibly difficult to find and no other evidence to go on, time is running out.
To Bryne, the brutal murders and connections to the Church seem familiar and remind him of an old case, The Boy in The Red Coat. He does some investigating on this tangent, to give us a small sideline off from the main crime premise. Also as a sideline story is that of a trouble boy that Bryne takes under his wing. He starts to become quite protective of this kid, a victim of the streets that isn't much helping himself. As the novel continues, the question is how the opening scenes link in to the recent killing, who's hand is to blame for the bloodshed, and whether Bryne and Jessica can figure the puzzle out before it's too late and more die.
I won't say anymore on the premise, which becomes relatively intricate though not obscurely complicated. It's made unique, I would say, more by the characters and style of writing. Serial killings aren't anything new and neither really are the religious undertones, but Montanari adds plenty of twists and turns to keep it fresh. By the end I must admit that I found it more difficult to work around the pieces of the puzzle, but it didn't greatly spoil by enjoyment of the novel. I found it easy to read from start to finish because I did feel gripped, engaged and wanting to read more.
As I've said, part of it is the writing style; it reads fluently and engages at the level of the characters in such a way that you start to warm with them and empathise. There's a feeling of wanting to know more about them and keep reading, and I like how the relationship between the lead detectives is sculpted throughout. Having read previous novels, I was already familiar with the protagonists, so it was good to have something familiar with which to relate. Having said that, you needn't have read previous Montanari novels to get in to this one as it's still a stand alone book. I just liked having something familiar to feel more 'at home' with, and I always find that Bryne and Balzano are developed in a realistic but three dimensional way. You enjoy reading about them and want to know more.
In a similar way, the scenes are brought about in a realistic way too, in a sense that you can picture them and imagine what's happening for yourself quite easily. Scenes in the church, the way the bodies are left, the atmosphere, all of it is built up with a sense of vivid detail that you can almost feel. He adds just enough forensic and police-style detail to make it realistic and gritty in a real-world sense without confusing or distracting from the main premise itself. I also liked the smaller sidelines to the novel that gradually begin to come together, as they kept it feeling fresh and kept me on my toes as a reader.
On the back is further praise for Richard Montanari, including 'A relentlessly suspenseful, soul-chilling thriller that hooks you instantly' - Tess Gerritsen, and 'A specialist in serial killer tales... a wonderfully evocative writer' - Publishers Weekly. I agree with both comments; he's a great writer and his ability to bring to life the characters and scenes helps create the sense of atmosphere and suspense. The downsides? For me it was probably just the ending and the way I didn't necessarily think things were made particularly clear when the last parts of the puzzle were put together. Perhaps that was down to me not concentrating enough but I did find it slightly less believable/more muddled at one point. Though that's a relatively small thing, given that the last few pages helped sort this out and I was still left with the feeling of having read a gripping crime thriller.
Overall, I would recommend this for fans and newbies to Montanari alike. I'm giving it 4 stars for the slight issue with the storyline I mentioned, but otherwise it's a good game of cat and mouse detective work for you to get your teeth in to.
358 Pages over 62 chapters plus a little 2 page add-on to round things off (hardback)
Selling for £3.86 on Amazon (paperback)