I’d read some good reviews of Dennis Palumbo’s first book Mirror Image, so I decided to give this author’s second novel a try. After all, Fever Dream features Daniel Rinaldi, clinical psychologist and “trauma expert” who acts as a consultant for the Pittsburgh police, and I have a weakness for books that feature therapists. Dennis Palumbo who is a psychotherapist was formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, and all of that experience is apparent in this action-packed tale that seems to be firmly rooted in the thriller genre and screams for a film adaptation.
Rinaldi, now a widower due to the actions of a coked-up mugger, rather appropriately specialises in therapy for the victims of violent crime. So it’s no surprise when he’s called in to try to extract some vital details from a terrified bank teller who’s just been released from a hostage situation at First Allegheny Bank. The teller, Treva Williams, is in a state of shock when Rinaldi arrives at the scene, and she’s able to give a few details about what happened inside the bank. A SWAT team surrounds the area, but any plan to negotiate vaporizes when the bank robber executes everyone–with the exception of the guard who’s left wounded, disgruntled and threatening to sue
While a bloody mop up is underway, Rinaldi promises to accompany Treva to the hospital, but a delay causes him to miss the departing ambulance that’s transporting Treva and the guard to the hospital. Later, however, news breaks that the ambulance never made it to the hospital….
From the moment Rinaldi arrives on the scene outside of the bank, something doesn’t feel right about this bank robbery. Was this because one of the robbers flaked out and ran off? Or was it because the assistant bank manager was cold-bloodedly killed as he bent to pick up his glasses? And what about the bank manager who rather conveniently didn’t go to work that day?
Rinaldi isn’t exactly on the Philadelphia’s Police dept Xmas list, and many of the officers resent his interference–especially Lt. Stu Beigler who thinks Rinaldi has no place sniffing around a crime scene. The bank robbery turns out to be a political hot potato as it’s an election year and District Attorney Leland Sinclair, a smooth, ambitious politician who’s running for Governor in a gentrified city is running on one of those “tough law-and-order” platforms. The bloodbath at the bank is a PR nightmare for Sinclair, and while he spews forth the usual insipid political platitudes, he doesn’t fool anyone, least of all Rinaldi, about his real concerns. After all, “dead hostages make for lousy campaign ads.”
The clash between outward appearances and inner realities runs through the story as Rinaldi juggles his personal and professional life while finding that he’s drawn deeper into the aftermath of the hostage crisis. Since Rinaldi is a psychologist, the novel is full of his insights into human nature–insights that others miss:
His name, I recalled from Treva, was George. Tall, salt-and-pepper hair trimmed to a severe V at the middle of his forehead. He was in his mid-fifties, and given how tight he wore his olive green uniform, maybe a bit vain about how fit he was. Skin tanned like leather, a strong chin. Hard grey eyes that had seen a lot.
Here’s a scene from inside the bank:
I took another breath and found myself looking at the walls. Maybe to avoid looking down at the bodies. The walls spattered with blood, scarlet blotches that sprayed out in a curving pattern like thrown mud. That dripped slowly in rivulets to the floor like some living Pollock painting.
Bits of flesh and bone fragments pitted the teller’s stations, the customer counters, the free-standing courtesy desk whose pen still dangled half-way to the floor with its silver chain.
Palumbo shows his screenwriting background in the sharply drawn physicality of that scene which captures the stunning violence and lives cut short in the flash of a moment. An engaging read packed with enough action to push the book into thriller rather than straight crime fiction, Fever Dream checks all the boxes for the genre while continuing the story of a strong series character. While references are made to incidents that took place in the first novel (Mirror Image), it does not appear necessary to have read that one first. However, that said, I would have preferred to read Mirror Image first as it seems that Rinaldi is not the only character to reappear in this second novel, and many of these characters have a history with Rinaldi.
My copy came courtesy of the publisher via netgalley and was read on the kindle.