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

Three Bags Full by Dennis Palumbo for Femme Fatales

The Femmes welcome author Dennis Palumbo, a licensed psychotherapist and Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year, Welcome Back, Kotter, and more.). Dennis's his fifth thriller, Head Wounds, features Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police. www.dennispalumbo.com. Enjoy his story. -- Elaine Viets

How my latest Daniel Rinaldi thriller let me check three items off my writing bucket list

By Dennis Palumbo

In the years since I began my series of mystery thrillers featuring Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police, I’ve wanted to do three particular things with the series. And yet it wasn’t until I wrote the latest, HEAD WOUNDS, that I got my chance.

Head wounds

First, I was able to write about the delusional condition called erotomania (also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome). As both a therapist and a mystery author, I’ve always been fascinated by it.

imply put, erotomania is a disorder in which someone falsely believes that another person is in love with him---deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must be hidden due to some social, personal or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Often it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. Instead, they can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person in the grip of erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: for example, wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public; or doing certain gestures whose “special” meaning is known only to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

In terms of treatment, the clinical options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually anti-psychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction---the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.
Which brings me to the second box I got to tick off on my thriller-writing checklist: while the previous Daniel Rinaldi novels emphasized narrative twists and psychological suspense, there was always a whodunnit aspect to the story. The reader doesn’t learn the identity of the bad guy until the end.


However, with HEAD WOUNDS, I had the perfect opportunity to reveal to the reader right up front who the villain is: Sebastian Maddox, a computer genius who, in the grip of erotomania many years before, had killed Daniel Rinaldi’s wife Barbara, disguising the murder as a mugging gone wrong. Having formed a psychotic obsession with Barbara before she’d even met her future husband, Maddox is outraged when he learns that she and Rinaldi had gotten married. To his mind, the marriage was an unacceptable betrayal of the love that he believed he and Barbara shared.

So, instead of a whodunnit, HEAD WOUNDS turns on a deadly cat-and-mouse game---all these years after Barbara’s death--- between Sebastian Maddox, who’s spent ten years in prison on an unrelated drug charge, and Daniel Rinaldi. After a decade’s careful planning, stewing in his jail cell, Maddox can now complete his mission of revenge.

Since I’d never written a mystery in which both the bad guy and his motive were clear from early on, writing this latest book caused more than a few narrative headaches along the way. But it sure was fun.

Which brings me to the third element of the Rinaldi series that has plagued me since the beginning: namely, what had actually happened to the psychologist’s wife that fateful night? Seasoned crime readers certainly know (or at least suspect) that a simple mugging is never either simple nor, in fact, a mugging. So why did Barbara Rinaldi die? And, more importantly, who wanted her dead?

Throughout the release of the previous novels, I’ve heard from many readers wanting to know what really happened to Rinaldi’s wife. Now, at last, I got to answer them. As well as provide myself with a satisfying resolution to an important aspect of Rinaldi’s back-story.

What can I say? I’m a therapist. I like closure.

Buy Head Wounds here.

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