Book Review: Dream Room by Chet Nicholson

Dream Room: Tales of the Dixie Mafia
by Chet Nicholson
Copyright 2009
Publisher: Oakley Publishing
417 pages

Rating: 7/10

Summary: Dream Room is a dramatization of the life of “Dixie Mafia” leader Mike Gillich and his wife, Frances. The book is interesting, but author Nicholson makes some questionable decisions in presenting the material.

Review: Few true crime books are more exciting than is Edward Humes’ (1995) Mississippi Mud. The story had it all  –
– a murdered judge and city councilwoman,
– the Dixie Mafia,
– a one-legged hitman,
– a scam run from inside Louisiana’s Angola prison,
– and a defendant who was also the mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi.
The sole problem with Humes’ book was that it was published too early – many of the most-interesting parts of the story occurred later.

Fortunately for readers interested in the case, there is Chet Nicholson’s Dream Room, which purports to tell the whole story.

New Material

Gulfport, Mississippi, attorney Chet Nicholson represented Dixie Mafia figure Mike “Mr. Mike” Gillich, who played a key role in the Sherry murders – then turned stool pigeon. Dream Room serves as an autobiography of Gillich and his wife, Frances, both of whom spent decades in “the street life.” Much of the material concerns events other than the Sherry murders, but Dream Room is never dull.

Potential readers should know that Dream Room is a “dramatization” of the events in Mike and Frances’ lives. The Gillichs gave Nicholson their stories and he filled in the blanks with dialogue. This technique helps maintain the reader’s interest, but it has unintended consequences.

Poor Taste

While Dream Room is a page turner, it merits no better than a 7/10. My biggest objection is that author Nicholson shows such bad taste toward the many victims in the case. He spares the families of these victims nothing by creating graphic descriptions of their murders. Consider the following passage –

“The superheated pellets, small and intact, entered at an angle, knocking out teeth in the front of his mouth, incisors and molars splintering, as the bullets furrowed inward, blood and spittle spraying, flesh and teeth-bones flying, the small, lightweight projectiles glancing up into the inside rear of the skull. Scattered fragments of enamel and dental silver found their way free of his mouth as he barely had begun to fall, the detritus from his punctured face hanging like a grisly spray in the air, on the walls and on the carpet…” (p. 292).

Nicholson does not confine his bad taste to descriptions of the crime. He also portrays the Sherrys as awful people, which is perhaps not surprising given that Gillich was his primary source. Consider this description that Nicholson created of Margaret Sherry’s thoughts:

“The middle-aged brunette had the flaccid, perpetually worried look that a Republican woman of her generation gets when youth has abandoned her and she understands that she will only be noticed if she makes noise. She was heavy-hipped and thick-legged and not pleased about it” (p. 227).

Nicholson is an educated man and he should have realized that this material is both unnecessary and in the poorest taste. One can only imagine the pain that this caused the four Sherry children. His source – Gillich – made the Sherrys victims by murdering them; twenty years later, Nicholson makes them victims again. (Nicholson creates a similar gruesome scenario in describing the murder of a New Orleans grocer in 1971).

A Tale of Two Books

In the end, it’s difficult to decide which book – Dream Room or Mississippi Mud – to recommend to potential readers. Mississippi Mud is far better written, but its narrative stops too early and leaves the reader hanging. Dream Room has the complete story, but its readers have to contend with Nicholson’s questionable presentation. While it’s a tough call, I would go with Dream Room – warts and all.

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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