"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

Reviewing the Evidence Reviews Dennis Palumbo's Phantom Limb

by Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen, September 2014
250 pages
ISBN: 1464202567
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Dennis Palumbo has written a fourth mystery featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, consultant for the Pittsburgh Police Department. As in previous books of this series, Rinaldi spends little time in his office listening to patients and much time chasing after perpetrators and rescuing victims. At the start of the book, the initial appointment of a new client - former porn star Lisa Hartland, now the trophy wife of an aging multi-millionaire - ends with Rinaldi punched unconscious and Lisa kidnapped. Lisa had visited Rinaldi because she was on the verge of suicide and wanted one last chance to be talked out of killing herself. The real reason for her despondency is not revealed until later in the book. This assault and kidnapping is only the first of a long string of heinous crimes perpetrated by a pair of sadistic criminals.

Although the police and FBI believe they can identify the culprits, Palumbo presents us with a number of possible accomplices and masterminds. Rinaldi has the skills that allow people to confide in him and he is able to eliminate suspects by having them open up to him. He is able to figure out their psychology and understand what makes them do what they do, but he is not easily able to find and stop them. He comes close to death more than once, as does his ally, FBI agent Gloria Reese. Rinaldi never seems to get enough sleep or food, as his phone is constantly ringing to inform him of either another crime or another demand for him to respond to.

Lisa's husband Charles, a self-centered invalid in a wheel chair, is clear that no expense will be spared for his wife's return and plans to meet the ransom demand of several million dollars. For reasons that we soon learn, the kidnappers want Rinaldi to deliver the ransom personally. He agrees to do this, as Lisa is his client, and this decision involves him in a series of violent and deadly events. All his cleverness and resilience are needed as he faces these harrowing situations.

One of the author's skills is creating a strong sense of place. As in previous Rinaldi books, the city of Pittsburgh - its neighborhoods, its weather, its bars and outskirts - figure strongly in the tale. Palumbo has also created a multi-layered, enigmatic character in his protagonist. Although an educated professional with a cerebral job, Rinaldi is quick to lash out with his fists when provoked. We learn that an abusive childhood with a father who forced him to fight has left him with deep anger issues. And then there is the back-story of his dead wife Barbara, supposedly killed during a robbery. The kidnapping/murder cases are solved by the end of PHANTOM LIMB, but Palumbo leaves us with a personal Rinaldi cliffhanger. The reader will eagerly await the next volume in this series to learn how that plays out.

§Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, November 2014

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