by Sharon Tucker
This week we have a review of the latest Daniel Rinaldi thriller by Dennis Palumbo. We also have an interesting interview with Dennis. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon and an indie bookstore.
Panic Attack by Dennis Palumbo: Keeping Secrets For A Living
Review by Sharon Tucker
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall?Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap?May who ne’er hung there. —Gerard Manly Hopkins
What a pleasure to learn that a new Daniel Rinaldi thriller is out. It’s good to be with Dr. Rinaldi, the quiet, steady therapist who helps us reconnect to our better, more sane selves when life gets out of hand. He counsels survivors of violence and I know I would feel comfortable seeking his help at such a time. It’s also good to go back to visit Pittsburgh, a part of the country I don’t know at all except through these novels. Their setting is rich with the Steel City’s history and atmosphere and with the complexities Rinaldi’s patients, associates, police officers, attorneys, and all those who befriend, tolerate, and actively work for or against the good doctor.
Panic Attack (2021) begins at a college football game where something unthinkable happens—a murder in front of a stadium of spectators. Although Rinaldi is still recovering from a particularly nasty case assisting the Pittsburgh police solve, he too is one of the spectators, guest of a university administrator. Considering Rinaldi’s reputation, it should come as no surprise that he immediately gets a panicked phone call from another victim involved in the shooting. What follows is a circuitous path to assisting the police again in solving a knotty series of problems, and Detective Harry Polk doesn’t make it any easier here than he has in the past.
Relax, sit back with a glass of whatever pleases you, and go with Dr. Rinaldi on another case. He’s going to help people in need, figure out what’s going on in spite of the police, and keep company with an attractive woman. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
Interview with Writer Dennis Palumbo:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
DP: Since my teen years, I guess. I started sending out short stories while in high school, and then wrote an unsold (and probably dreadful) novel while in college.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
DP: My first published novel was a sci-fi story called City Wars. It was published by Bantam Books and came out in 1978. (Yes, I’m that old!). It was your typical post-apocalyptic novel about a ravished America which had been reduced to a number of city-states (à la Sparta or Athens), each of which was so isolated it had no idea of the condition of the others. So there was a kind of ongoing war footing maintained by each city’s government, in anticipation of an attack by one of the other cities.
KRL: Other than City Wars, have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?
DP: City Wars was my first and only foray into science fiction, other than a few short stories. Otherwise, all my fiction since then has been in the mystery/suspense genre. My short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and are collected in a book called From Crime to Crime. My Daniel Rinaldi thrillers are my first and, so far, only crime novels.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
DP: That’s easy. Since I first read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories while a teenager I’ve wanted to create a series character of my own. Yet it wasn’t until my career as a Hollywood screenwriter ended, and I began my current career as a licensed psychotherapist (nearing thirty years in private practice) that I finally launched my Daniel Rinaldi series of mystery thrillers.
As a therapist, I’ve always been chagrined at how mental health professionals, particularly male therapists, are portrayed in crime stories. They’re either all-knowing experts or evil and predatory. With Daniel Rinaldi, I wanted to depict a flawed yet caring human being, one who struggles with survivor guilt. His wife was killed in a mugging gone wrong years before, while Daniel barely escaped with his life. This determined his mission to treat patients who themselves had been traumatized by violence.
Like me, Rinaldi is Italian-American, the son of blue collar parents, the first in his generation to go to college. Also like me, he was born and raised in Pittsburgh, and is a Pitt grad. In other words, he’s a braver and more resourceful version of myself, since most of the situations he finds himself in would have me running for the hills!
Lastly, I think that the setting—Pittsburgh—is itself a major character in the series. Once an industrial powerhouse, a blue collar shot-and-a-beer town, the city has undergone a transformation to a primarily white-collar mecca of high tech and medical research. This gentrification of major parts of the cityscape is a source of great tension among the citizens, and I address that dichotomy in the series.
KRL: What an interesting story! Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?
DP: I write primarily to entertain (first myself and then, hopefully, the reader), but I also care deeply about the mental health industry in this country. I want my readers to see what goes on in a therapist’s head, and the kinds of issues clinicians deal with. Moreover, since we live in what one of my mentors calls “the age of trauma,” I want to explore how people deal with the anxiety, uncertainty and seeming chaos of modern life, especially given the difficult times we live in now.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?
DP: As a therapist with a full practice, I’m limited in my writing time. I’m envious of my fellow mystery authors who can turn out a book (or two!) a year. With my schedule, each Rinaldi book comes out on average every four years. As to when I write, it’s usually at lunch time during the work week and then, as the book looks to be about halfway done, I add in more evenings and weekends. It’s pretty much a scramble!
KRL: What is your ideal time to write?
DP: Ideally, in the morning, but since my therapy day starts at 8 a.m. I rarely get to write then. When I was a screenwriter, my regimen was a much more structured one: writing every weekday between 9 a.m. and noon. I only wrote on weekends when I was on a deadline.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
DP: I confess, I’m an absolute pantser! I have no idea, when I start a new Rinaldi book, what it’s about, who the murder victim(s) are and who’s killing them. It’s a totally inefficient way to write a thriller, particularly mine, which involve so many twists and turns. So I’m usually surprised by what my characters do or where the narrative is going. But I figure that if I’m surprised, so too will be the reader. Of course, this method is so haphazard that I’m forced to back-track a lot in the manuscript, adding red herrings or altering plot points so that the final product is cohesive. As you can imagine, this method involves a lot of re-writing. But the truth is, I’d rather write than think, so I prefer this way of building a narrative.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
DP: It’s strange, because my initial foray into mystery writing (selling short stories) went fairly smoothly. But then, years later, after I’d left screenwriting to become a full-time therapist, and decided to launch the Daniel Rinaldi series, getting published was a nightmare. The debut mystery, Mirror Image, was rejected by a dozen publishers, all of whom had kind things to say about the writing and story, but claimed I needed a bigger “platform” or social media following. One editor told me on the phone that if I was Dr. Phil, he’d buy the book instantly.
Anyway, thanks to my rep’s perseverance, the book was finally picked up by Poisoned Pen Press. I’ve loved being with them, given the personal care the editors took with each succeeding book in the series. Though Poisoned Pen is now an imprint of Sourcebooks, I’ll always be grateful to my initial editors at PPP for their support of my work.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
DP: Well, I like the one about my not being Dr. Phil. But I also had a conversation with an editor who praised the debut book and said that it reminded him of Presumed Innocent. Then he said, “But, of course, that’s not a book we’d buy today.” To this day, I have no idea what his problem was with Scott Turow’s masterpiece.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
DP: I’ve had a number of them. Of course, there’s the common experience of being put at a signing table next to a best-selling author. His/her fans formed a huge line, waiting to get their books signed, while I had one lone fan standing at my spot. I always did my best to keep talking to this poor person, keeping them engaged so he/she wouldn’t wander off.
I’ve also experienced the one person who comes to the signing table, asks a zillion questions, praises other authors he or she admires, and describes in detail the book he/she is working on. Then, without buying my book, the person walks away.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
DP: At this point, just to keep writing about Daniel Rinaldi’s unique journey through life. In the books, he ages (as do I), so I figure there are many new experiences up ahead that I can explore. I also enjoy writing the occasional essay or review, though I notice I’m slowing down a bit in that department.
KRL: Who are your writing heroes?
DP: Too many to mention! In the crime genre, the usual suspects: Chandler, Hammett, James M. Cain, Elmore Leonard. Nowadays it’s Michael Connelly, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, S.A. Cosby, Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Heather Graham. I’m a real fan of George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle. A true, enduring masterpiece, in my opinion.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
DP: Whatever is involved in the book I’m writing. If it’s about a certain psychological condition or diagnosis (night terrors, phantom limbs, erotomania), I always seek out the most current writing on the subject. I also research police procedure. Since my Rinaldi novels are set in Pittsburgh, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles for forty years, I have to research current street names, buildings, traffic patterns, etc. In fact, when I hear from my Pittsburgh readers, they rarely talk about the mystery or the characters; they mostly complain about some aspect of Pittsburgh I got wrong (i.e., “Hey, you have Rinaldi making a left onto Second Avenue. You can’t make that turn after five o’clock!”)
KRL: What do you like to read?
DP: Other than crime fiction, I read biographies of historical figures and books on the natural sciences. Once in a while I get into a phase where I’m binging political books, but for some reason it ends as quickly as it starts.
KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
DP: Again, too many to mention. So I’ll just reply in terms of crime stories. In TV, I like Law & Order (and its variants). I liked Longmire. I also love foreign limited series crime shows: Broadchurch, Unforgotten, Luther, etc. My American favorites, however, are all old: The Rockford Files, Harry O, Peter Gunn, Hill Street Blues and Columbo.
When it comes to films, I like noir, my two favorites being Double Indemnity and Out of The Past. But I also love Detour, the perfect shoestring budget noir. I also like Body Heat. My favorite (and, in my opinion, boasting the best screenplay ever, by Robert Towne), is Chinatown. Among recent films, I liked Knives Out.
KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
DP: Yes. Writing begets writing. Everything else is just talk. Planning to write, doing endless research, etc., are all ways to deflect you from your goal. You also don’t need an MFA, or have gone to a fancy writing retreat. Trust me: You are enough RIGHT NOW to be the writer you want to be. I also suggest that new writers pay no attention to publishing trends, what’s currently on the best-seller list, etc. My advice about that aspect of writing, and trying to find a publisher, is simple: Keep giving them YOU, until YOU is what they want.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
DP: That in my younger years I was a mountain climber. I’ve done technical climbs of the Grand Tetons and trekked the Himalayas during a three-month stay in Nepal. I’ve also done my share of white-water rafting.
DP: At the moment, a deeply soulful cat. But we’ve had many cats and dogs before him.
KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?
DP: Only that I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak to you. And that I hope your readers consider checking out my Daniel Rinaldi books. I’m particularly proud of the new one, Panic Attack. I truly think it’s one of the best and most socially relevant books in the series.
KRL: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
DP: My website is www.dennispalumbo.com. I’m also on FaceBook, both personally and represented by the Daniel Rinaldi Mysteries FB page. Re Twitter: Officially, I’m on there, too, but rarely post. No idea why.
If you would like to attend Dennis’ virtual launch for his new Daniel Rinaldi thriller, Panic Attack, on September 21 at 7 p.m. (EDT) you can register here. It’s hosted by Pittsburgh’s famed Mystery Lovers Bookshop. The event is free but you must register.
To enter to win a copy of Panic Attack, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “panic,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 25, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
One of the very first Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast episodes featured a short story by Dennis. You can listen by clicking here or on the player below:
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week.
You can use this link to purchase this book from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:
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