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The Dead Room – An Informal Review

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By: burgundy bug

The Dead Room – Robert Ellis

Source: Penelope Peru | P³

In his second thriller, L.A. Times Best-Selling author Robert Ellis builds up the homicide of a young girl into a case of serial murders. It’s up to real estate lawyer Teddy Mack to swoop in and navigate his way through the trial to end a madman’s reign of terror. 

Vertical Photograph of The Dead Room – Robert Ellis

Source: Penelope Peru | P³

As much as I hate to admit it, my review is going to have bias that has almost nothing to do with The Dead Room itself. Rather, the formulation of my opinion draws from the state of the book beneath beneath my finger tips and the way in which I got my hands on it. 

Due to my ever-so-slight bias and the amount of time it took me to complete The Dead Room, please keep in mind that this is only an informal review. 

A bit of Context…

[Skip to the review?]

I’ll be honest. I’m generally not one for fiction. I’ve always preferred factual reads, biographical pieces, or philosophical works. Sinking my teeth into a thriller, although I’ve always had a soft-side for mysteries, is almost entirely out of character. 

But jumping out of the car to retrieve a book found on the side of the road down the street from an Amish farm? Well, that’s right up my alley.

While driving through the heart of Pennsyltucky – the rural bit of Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia defined by both Urban Dictionary and (surprisingly) Wikipedia – a shimmer in the corner of my eye engulfed my attention.

Upon realizing this shimmer was June’s high-noon sunlight illuminating the shiny, silver and red cover of a thick novel, I was intrigued. Hooked, I enthusiastically exclaimed to my partner, XtaSeay, that I’d be throwing myself out of the car to retrieve the book for my collection. 

He laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. With a car on ass, rolling their eyes and unapologetically honking our way, I exited the car and skittered back with The Dead Room in my clutches and a skip in my step. 

Understandably curious, I immediately flip to the first chapter. Reading, The way her breasts seemed to bob with the slightest move (13) within the very first paragraph, I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought that someone who resided on the Amish farm this book was resting just a few feet down the road from clung to every page of this book in secret.

I’m not even begrudging them The Dead Room. I mean, without the internet, how else are they supposed to get their kicks? If PG-13 narration is how they satisfy their needs, all the more power to them. 

Obviously, the previous owner had a good time with the book, as the pages are encrusted in Cheetos dust, and what I can only hope aren’t the occasional booger. And here I thought I disrespected my books simply because I am notorious for letting loose with highlighters and post it notes! Eck.

The Dead Room – An Informal Review

Let’s begin with the logistics of The Dead Room before analyzing the story itself. 

The Dead Room – A Structural Critique

The structure of the book itself is almost entirely without flaw. Competently written and easy to read. The paragraphs are digestible and uncluttered with very brief chapters.

The vocabulary is exactly what you would expect of a young adult thriller, with a few interesting words sautéed to integrate a bit of flavor here and there as well as “Delco” colloquials appropriately sprinkled throughout. 

The story is linear, alternating between storylines towards the middle of the book throughout the climax for necessary context. An interesting choice, author Robert Ellis pulls this more complex literary technique off pretty well. 

The Dead Room – Reviewing the Plot

[Spoilers ahead – read at your own risk]

Ellis kicks off the thriller with a PG-13 introduction to Darlene Lewis, who is admiring her body in a Victoria’s Secret night gown before deciding to tease her voyeuristic mailman, Oscar Holmes, for some sort of narcissistic indulgence.  

Alternating to our main character, real estate lawyer Teddy Mack is summoned by the head of his law firm for a favor. His boss, Jim Barnett, appoints Teddy the case of Lewis’ murder, to defend the prime suspect, Holmes. Although it’s not necessarily his area of practice, our protagonist takes on the case.

Within this second chapter, we’re introduced to other characters who will continue to serve importance to the plot throughout the story, as well. 

As I began reading this book, I genuinely believed I had gotten myself into some light-adult novel that an Amish farmer got their thrills from. It wasn’t until a one or two hundred pages in that I realized The Dead Room was merely a murder-mystery laced with occasional adult themes. 

Nevertheless, The Dead Room will always hold a special place in my heart as the pornographic Amish thriller – despite it’s lack of true pornographic content and Amish characters. 

I have to admit, I am definitely impressed by the accuracy of The Dead Room in capturing the Philadelphia area and surrounding suburbs. Unsurprisingly, the author himself was born in the city of brotherly love. Still, Ellis goes as far as relaying the names of actual streets within the counties bordering Philadelphia.

Keep in mind, The Dead Room was published in 2002, a time before the popularization of Google and just before the launch of Google Maps in 2005.

However, accuracy seems to trail off a bit in the more grotesque details. While I understand this is fiction and I whole-heartedly encourage Ellis to fully flesh out the inner workings of his imagination, I can’t help but raise an eyebrow in wrapping my head around the idea of a serial killer harvesting tattoos and sealing them onto canvas to serve as graffiti in his paintings. 

In fact, there’s quite a bit about Eddie Trisco III I have some trouble accepting, but he is a madman displaying symptoms of very severe schizophrenia, after all.

It is worth noting Ellis never once names a condition for Trisco. Many of his delusions seem to be drug-induced, however other characters throughout the book note he had seemed just a tad bit… off, even prior to his history of drug-abuse. 

As the story unfolds, bodies of young, beautiful women continue to turn up, accompanied by disappearances of Rosemary Gibb and the owner of a cafe Trisco frequented. In spite of this, overlapping interests and character quirks continue to paint the peeping-tom mailman Oscar Holmes as guilty. You can’t help but feel awful for his position and grow to detest the prosecutor, Alan Andrews, as well as his entire team. 

Speaking of the prosecuting team, Andrews’ lead detective is a man by the name of Michael Jackson. I suppose this is intended to add a twinkle of humor in an otherwise dark and dreary tale, considering the author feels the need to say, the detective, not the dancer almost every.single.time he is mentioned until just before the end of The Dead Room. This bit just rubbed me as corny and unnecessary, but I will begrudgingly admit it squeezed an annoyed giggle or two out of me… Mission accomplished, Ellis?

After a good two hundred and some pages, things are really looking up for Holmes and his defense team. Teddy Mack gets his hands dirty with some firsthand investigations of the case. Drawing from a family tragedy in his adolescence, his judge of character, and wit, Teddy capitalizes on key details to hone in on the true killer behind over a dozen serial murders, Eddie Trisco III. 

In a series of a events, the book climaxes with Andrews murdering Trisco and firing a non-fatal shot towards our hero, Teddy Mack. 

In it’s resolution, Andrews is sentenced to a death penalty after a laboring six year case on the account of murdering Trisco, concealing evidence, and attempts at Teddy’s life. 

While I found it somewhat out of character that Teddy Mack saw through Andrews’ execution, the book could’ve ended right there. Yes, a few questions would’ve gone unanswered, but I still hold that it is better than how they are handled in the final chapter. 

In just a few pages (five pages in my copy of The Dead Room, although I imagine this may vary from print to print), chapter Seventy-Six wraps up this murder mystery in an anti-climactic final twist.

Although Ellis spent over 400 pages painting prosecutor Alan Andrews as a downright despicable and slimy villain, we find out the real greaseball here is in fact Teddy’s mentor, Nash. 

I will admit, this is very much in line with his character. Although Nash is generally depicted as a good guy, his manipulative nature does leave a bitter taste in the reader’s mouth, hindsight. As we find out Nash played a hand in the wrongful execution of Teddy’s father during his formative years, Nash explains he’s mentored Teddy throughout the years in an attempt to cleanse himself of the guilt. 

We also come to find Nash was the really one who killed Trisco, not Andrews. He was also responsible for insuring Teddy found the body of Valerie Kram, as well as puppet-mastering other very subtle yet essential components of the trials against both Trisco and Andrews. 

Despite this ending aligning with who Nash is as a character and providing an explanation to a few hanging questions, I found it very unnecessary. Yes, The Dead Room is brimming with plot-twists – but Ellis did a wonderful job foreshadowing and providing proper context with each well-timed twist. 

This ending felt rushed, forced, almost lazy. If Ellis had spent more time demonizing Nash or building up to this final kicker, I believe it may have read slightly better. Still, I can’t help but hold this ending just feels… off and untimely. 

In Conclusion… 

L.A. Times Best Selling Author Robert Ellis encapsulates the reader in a world of injustice, and twists, defined by geographical accuracy, gut-wrenching gore, and light-adult themes. 

With each chapter, the reader can’t help but find themselves further invested in the life of Teddy Mack and the political injustice clouding his career as a lawyer. 

Although I’m not one for fiction myself, there were times I became genuinely fascinated by the case and the ways in which it unraveled. I found myself rooting for Teddy and feeling sorry for characters such as Oscar Holmes. 

The narrative remains consistent, with timely plot-twists keeping the reader on the edge of their seat until it loses it’s footing a bit in the final chapter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I insisted on rescuing The Dead Room from the side of the road in the heart of Pennsyltucky, but I can’t say I regret adding this thriller to my collection of books. 

Granted, it may seem out of place, finding itself among plant and butterfly encyclopedias and the philosophies of René DescartesImmanuel Kant, as well as Aristotle, I wouldn’t want what-ifs to linger over my head if I had let The Dead Room be, resting in the cusp of summer’s afternoon sunlight. 

I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to recommend The Dead Room to others, but if you happen to stumble upon a copy during a road trip of your own, it’s worth coming to a stop to swoop up yourself.

As for a rating? I give this book three out of five horse-n-buggies. 

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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