By Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover, 334 pp., $24.95
Reviewed by Gloria Feit
Kevin Merrick, a patient of Dr. Dan Rinaldi for six months, had finally made a breakthrough of sorts, overcoming the self-imposed barriers and opening up about the traumatic events in his childhood. Now 23 years old, he has used drugs, cutting, and other ways of dealing with his problems. Now Danny feels he may be able to help him in a more lasting way. However, shortly after leaving Danny’s office, and in his building’s parking lot, Kevin is murdered.
A clinical psychologist, Danny is an outside consultant with the Pittsburgh P.D., his specialty being treating victims of violent crime. Having himself suffered from just such a trauma five years earlier, in an incident which left his wife dead and him seriously injured, he can truly ‘feel their pain’ [to uses a current cliché]. Danny’s life is placed in jeopardy of various kinds: he is threatened with the loss of his professional license for his choice of treatment of the dead boy; and the police see him as a ‘person of interest’ in the boy’s murder or, in the alternative, the intended victim and now next on the killer’s agenda. Through all this he needs to try to deal with more than one prior patient who starts to become unglued as matters escalate in this compelling noir thriller.
Mr. Palumbo, a psychotherapist himself, draws interesting characters: Danny himself; Sgt. Harry Polk, “a beer keg in a wrinkled blue suit;” his partner, Det. Eleanor Lowrey, and Casey Walters, the erratic, erotic young ADA. And beyond all the action, and all the sex, the identity of the murderer stays tantalizingly out of reach, with Danny’s life still at risk, until the final pages. This is the author’s first novel, and though that seems apparent at some times more than others [e.g., “I ducked my head under the scalding water. I wanted it to burn, to sear off the day’s events, to scour me clean” and “the purple sky looked like a bruise], overall I loved the writing, e.g., “. . . the old precinct house. A century of brutal Pittsburgh winters had etched huge worry lines in the face it showed the world” and “Pennsylvania is a green state, never greener than after a heavy rain. Trees glisten, leaves studded with tears. Puffs of wind push around the big clouds, sun-speckled, intensely white. The old Appalachian Hills, sloping away before spreading urban tendrils, looking as pristine and timeless as when the first settlers came over four hundred years ago.” [I also greatly enjoyed the protagonist’s, and I assume the author’s, choice of music, and jazzmen, sprinkled through the tale.] Recommended.