Book Review: Head Wounds by Dennis Palumbo

Head Wounds
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery #5
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0816-4
Hardcover

From the publisher:   Psychologist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime – – those who’ve survived an armed robbery, kidnapping, or sexual assault, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them.  “Head Winds” picks up where Rinaldi’s investigation in “Phantom Limb” left off, turning the tables on him as he, himself, becomes the target of a vicious killer.  “Miles Davis saved my life.”  With these words, Rinaldi becomes a participant in a domestic drama that blows up right outside his front door, saved from a bullet to the brain by pure chance.  In the chaos that follows, Rinaldi learns his bad-girl, wealthy neighbor has told her hair-triggered boyfriend Rinaldi is her lover.  As things heat up, Rinaldi becomes a murder suspect.  But this is just the first act in this chilling, edge-of-your-seat thriller.  As one savagery follows another, Rinaldi is forced to relive a terrible night that haunts him still.  And to realize that now he – – and those he loves – – are being victimized by a brilliant killer still in the grip of delusion. Determined to destroy Rinaldi by systemically targeting those close to him – – his patients, colleagues and friends – – computer genius Sebastian Maddox thrives to cause as much psychological pain as possible, before finally orchestrating a bold, macabre death for his quarry.  How ironic.  As Pittsburgh morphs from a blue-collar town to a tech giant, a psychopath deploys technology in a murderous way.  Enter two other figures from Rinaldi’s past:  retired FBI profiler Lyle Barnes, once a patient who Rinaldi treated for night terrors; and Special Agent Gloria Reese, with whom he falls into a surprising, erotically charged affair.  Warned by Maddox not to engage the authorities or else random innocents throughout the city will die, Rinaldi and these two unlikely allies engage in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with an elusive killer who’ll stop at nothing in pursuit of what he imagines is revenge.

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The reader is put on notice of what awaits with a quote from no less a writer than Albert Camus:  “The desire for possession is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive even love itself.”

The Miles Davis reference, which is the first line in the book, is from a scene where Rinaldi is reading a 3-inch-thick dossier written about his late wife, hidden in the pages of which “was an overlooked or ignored piece of evidence proving that my wife’s death almost a dozen years ago hadn’t been what it seemed. That the gunfire that ended Barbara’s life was not the lethal result of a mugging gone wrong.  It was murder.”  Two bullets killed his wife, the third hitting him in the head.  The ensuing novel is all about finding the man who had killed his wife, who now wants him dead. He is now “working out my survival guilt.  A misguided attempt to make up for the fact that Barbara had died that fateful night and I hadn’t.”  It is an understatement to say that it is wonderfully well-written, suspenseful, and a complete page-turner.

The descriptions of Pittsburgh are terrific [to a lifelong New Yorker]:  “The Steel City continued to morph from a blue-collar, industrial town into a gentrified, white-collar hub of business and technology. . . Pittsburgh now boasted a new, modern skyline, no longer obscured by dark plumes of smoke from a hundred smokestacks.”  Rinaldi and his two comrades take on Maddox in an unpredictable chase that kept me glued to the page.

Another fascinating entry [the fifth] in a much-loved series, and one which is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: Edited Out by E.J. Copperman

Edited Out
A Mysterious Detective Mystery #2
E.J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6295-3599-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rachel Goldman is getting used to the idea that her fictional creation, Duffy Madison, has somehow taken flesh-and-blood form and is investigating missing person cases not far from where Rachel lives. Wait. No. She’s not getting used to it at all, and the presence of this real-life Duffy is making her current manuscript – what’s the word?  – – lousy.  So she doesn’t want to see Duffy – the living one – at all.  To make matters worse, when he shows up at her door and insists on talking to her, it’s about the one thing she doesn’t want to do:  find a missing person.  But the man Duffy seeks this time around might be able to solve Rachel’s problem.  He might just be the man Duffy was before he became Duffy five years ago.  The only problem is she could be letting Duffy lead her into danger yet again.

This is the second in a new series by E.J. Copperman, which finds author Rachel Goldman working, with some difficulty, on the next book in her Duffy Madison series, due to her publisher in three months.  Duffy is the consultant to the county prosecutor’s office, whose forte is finding missing persons.  Thinking back on the origin of her fictional character, she ruminates that she flashed on the idea of a consultant to the police, a very specific kind of genius who would be able to find lost things and, more important, lost people when the authorities could not.  It is now 6 months since a man had called Rachel “claiming to be the living incarnation of my fictional character.  He called himself Duffy Madison. .. . he believed I had actually created him four years earlier, because he had no memory of anything before that time.”  She speaks of him as “the raving lunatic who is using my character’s name and personality.”

Rachel is hard pressed to decide whether the man is insane, or if there is some other – or no – explanation as to his claims.  But after he had saved her life [in the events in the first book], she tries to give him some benefit of the doubt. This time their quest takes her from her home in Adamstown, New Jersey, to Poughkeepsie, New York [necessitating several trips across the barely passable Tappan Zee Bridge] where Duffy apparently went to high school, although proving that is difficult.  This time we learn a bit more about Rachel’s love life, such as it is.  Speaking of her invaluable assistant, she says “Paula dates more than I do, but then the pope probably dates more than I do.”

As I wrote in my review of the first book in the series (Written Off) this could only be an E.J. Copperman creation, as any reader of the author’s Asperger’s and Haunted Ghosthouse series can attest.  There is a mystery here, and quite creative and suspenseful it is, but the overriding aspect of this book is the author’s singular and trademark humor.  I can attest to the fact that every page, and nearly every sentence, of this delightful book is literally laugh-out-loud funny, and the smile almost never left my face for the two days it took me to read it.  As was the predecessor book, it is simply terrific, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2017.

Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.

Book Review: Mirror Image by Dennis Palumbo

Mirror Image
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59058-750-9
Hardcover

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 use 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.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2010.