Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7531-6
Romantic Suspense, 2004
EC Sheedy’s follow-up to Perfect Evil follows the same formula. Room 33 boasts two antagonistic main characters stuck in a rundown hotel with secretive and often unpleasant tenants. It focuses more on the suspense and the increasingly implausible antics of the tenants of Hotel Philip. While it’s not a story without its share of bumps and rough patches, this one is like a skanky version of the game Cluedo. It’s quite intriguing in its own charming way.
Joy Cole inherits the hotel in question from her late stepfather Stephen Emerson. The obligatory Letter from a Dead Guy thing tells her that ownership of the hotel comes with the responsibility over his wife, Joy’s mother Lana. Lana is predictably the nasty, calculating, skanky evil woman who all but cackles. Lana is not happy that her not-so-darling husband left everything to the daughter she isn’t fond of at all and plots behind Joy’s back. Meanwhile, Joy gets acquainted with the staff as well as the eccentric tenants, many with secrets to hide. Adding to the complication is Stephen’s son, Wade, an ex-con seeking to restore the hotel to its former glory and kicking out the Cole interlopers from the grand picture.
Joy is the typical neurotic and needy heroine while Wade hates women because a skank betrayed him in the past (there goes the smallest violin in the world) and their romance is actually scenes of tepid lust rather than actual convincing romance. But since the story doesn’t seem too concerned about their romance, I probably shouldn’t expect too much. Room 33 focuses heavily on the mysterious and oftimes menacing going-ons in a hotel where several murders have taken place.
While the story takes a turn for the more over-the-top as it heads towards the grand denouement, Ms Sheedy manages to put together a very interesting story that has me turning the pages. She manages to have me totally engrossed in the whole Menace in the Hotel story. I won’t court fate like Joy and stay in Room 33 where tenants often meet a bad end but I am intrigued enough to find out whether she’ll get her just dessert too. The downside to a story where the main characters aren’t fleshed out well enough is that I probably won’t mind or care at all if Joy dies. I just want to find out what happens next.
This story works well with me because the exaggerated traits of the secondary characters fit very well with the whole dark and claustrophobic atmosphere of the story. Room 33 strikes a nice balance between campy and menacing. Sure, the characters could be developed better and I could use some more romance, but it stands out as a very interesting noirish story that is a welcome change from the usual FBI and serial killer stories out there.