Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review - Fever Dream

By C.J. West

Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo is the second Daniel Rinaldi mystery. Palumbo is building a series that goes well beyond the mystery in each book by deepening our understanding of a wide ranging cast of characters.

Daniel Rinaldi is a consulting psychologist to the Pittsburgh Police Department and as an outsider and a mental health professional, he gives us interesting insights into the struggles facing the cops that begrudgingly call him to work for them. Rinaldi is also affiliated with a psychiatric hospital and meets with patients and former patients that give us an unvarnished view of characters suffering from mental illness. For the writers here, Palumbo's characterization of characters with mental illness alone is reason to study his work.

Fever Dream opens with a bank heist that spins out of control and becomes a hostage situation. In the first two dozen pages, Palumbo displays his mastery of the genre by planting the seed that a twist is coming, even this early in the book, and then delivering it in a way that is at once unexpected but also foreshadowed. The plot continues to twist, deepening with each turn. The possibilities seem endless as the book nears its conclusion offering connections to several characters with plausible links to a crime that itself morphs as the story unfolds.

Palumbo’s work as a licensed psychotherapist gives him insight into human relationships that really sparkles in his writing. In Fever Dream the relationship between Treva Williams, one of the victims in the bank heist, and Eleanor Lowrey, one of the detectives investigating, was so strongly done I had to stop reading and consider how well the reveal had been written.

Here is another example of a relationship splendidly portrayed:

             “She noticed me then, too, and we exchanged brief, sad smiles. 
And not just because of our shared grief about Andy’s death.

        It was more or less the way we always greeted each other 
other, no matter how much time had gone by.

And probably always would.”

In the passage above, Palumbo describes a heart-rending longing between Rinaldi and a former coworker that is so poignant you can’t help but feel his angst. Relationships deepen in this second novel, and Rinaldi's pain is visceral even as he works to help solve the bank heist and treat Ms. Williams, his emotional struggles bubble to the surface. Palumbo masterfully manages to deepen numerous series characters while telling a story that can be enjoyed without having read the previous book.

Seasoned writers talk about focusing on character and allowing the story to grow out of character. Fever Dream displays Palumbo's mastery of both. He delivers a great mystery with characters that really sparkle. I highly recommend Fever Dream, and Mirror Image, the first Daniel Rinaldi mystery.

Palumbo works with writers to help them overcome writer’s block and other mental obstacles to producing their best work. For the writers who regularly visit CFC, you’ll want to check out his book, Writing From The Inside Out. This is a great resource for writers to understand how their emotions and their perspective on their own work affects their productivity.

If you’re looking for more from Dennis Palumbo, you can find him at You can also listen to my Blog Talk Radio interview with him as we discuss his books, Mirror Image and Writing from the Inside out.


  1. Thanks for a great overview. He's on my list of authors to read. Palumbo's background as psychotherapist must add substantial character insight to his novels.

  2. His character insight is incredible and for writers I think reading his portrayal of characters with mental illness is as good as reading non-fiction on the subject.

  3. This is a terrific review, CJ. I will definitely be adding Dennis Palumbo to my Gotta Read list. In fact, I think I'll go scope him out right now.


  4. Crime and psychological thrills? I'm so there. Books like this scream out my name. Thanks for the heads up, CJ. Looking forward to reading this.

  5. Wow! Thanks for letting us know about this great author and three books to read, CJ! I'll definitely be checking Dennis Palumbo out!


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