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The Haunting Real-Life Research behind Richard Montanari’s ‘The Killing Room’

I’ve always been fascinated with abandoned buildings – hotels, schools, hospitals – anywhere that has played host to thousands of lives over the years. I believe an energy remains. But while the closing and razing of a theatre is one thing, what about churches?  What happens to the ground itself – once blessed in a sacred ritual – after a church’s doors are for ever locked?

While researching The Killing Room, I learned that the closing of a Catholic church is not nearly as simple a process as I’d thought. First and foremost, each closure has to be approved by the Vatican. Among other considerations is what happens to not only the stained glass, statuary and tabernacle, but also the requisites of the mass, such as the chalice, the vestments, the sanctuary lamp. I learned of one urban parish whose pastors – more than twenty – were buried in a small cemetery in the back. When the church closed its doors for the final time, the slow and somber process of exhuming the priests began.

I discovered another church in North Philadelphia, established in 1806, shuttered for nearly forty years. It was midwinter, very cold, and when I visited the basement I saw a long-rusted pipe descending from the low ceiling. I asked my guide about it. He told me that we were directly beneath the sacristy, and that the pipe was used to drain the piscina – commonly known in the Roman Catholic Church as the sacrarium. The sacrarium is a stone basin used to wash sacred vessels after mass, so that all the particles go directly back into the earth.

Standing in that frigid basement, thinking about all the sacramental blood and flesh that had gone into the ground over the past two centuries, I knew I had a story.

The Killing Room takes us to a travelling Pentecostal ministry in the West Virginia back country, to an ancient burial site in southern Turkey, to the derelict stone churches of Philadelphia – places that have lost the blessing of consecration to the profane act of murder.

The Killing Room is the most bizarre and chilling case yet for homicide detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano and is available from The Crime Vault now.

Richard Montanari is an internationally bestselling author whose novels have been published in more than twenty-five languages.

Click here to find out more about his new thriller, The Killing Room.