“In Palumbo’s riveting third Daniel Rinaldi mystery (after 2011’s FEVER DREAM), answers prove elusive as the murders begin to pile up. Palumbo ratchets up the stakes in this psychological thriller, but maintains the emotional complexity…” --- Publisher’s Weekly

Interview With Mystery Author – Dennis Palumbo

I met Dennis Palumbo at the Oklahoma Writers Federation conference last spring.  His workshop about writing mysteries built my confidence, so I read his first mystery, Mirror Image, loved it, and learned his not-quite-secret past. Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (“My Favorite Year,” “Welcome Back, Kotter,” etc.), Dennis is now a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in creative issues. Mirror Image, is the first in a series featuring psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi. The sequel, Fever Dream, is available now, and the third Rinaldi, Night Terrors, will appear this May (Poisoned Pen Press).  Dennis also blogs regularly for the Huffington Post and writes a column called “Hollywood on the Couch”      -Lucie Smoker


Dennis, the first book in your Daniel Rinaldi series, Mirror Image,  featured a victim who dressed up as his psychologist, the protagonist. What about Daniel Rinaldi inspires that sort of admiration?

A) Well, I think it’s his combination of clinical acumen and genuine compassion. Yes, he can be stubborn, even arrogant, when challenging authority figures (especially cops!), but he’s always on the side of his patients. No matter what.


As a reader, I enjoy little details that make the scene come to life in my head. In the opening scene of FEVER DREAM, the only freed hostage from a bank robbery is covered in gray brain matter. Love that gruesome foreshadowing. How has your own psychotherapy practice informed the creation of the plot?

A) I rarely get plot ideas from my practice, but I certainly use my clinical experience to inform the characters. Aspects of different patients and their issues over my past twenty five years in practice make their way into the stories. Plus my own experience, initially as a therapy patient myself, and now as a therapist. One of the things I like about writing the Daniel Rinaldi character is that I mine some of my own conflicts and struggles, confront my own issues.

From Chapter One, “Moving deliberately, I sat next to Treva on the curb, shoulders touching. Letting her know I was there. Anchoring us in the here-and-now. Keeping her in the present.” Do you consciously give us insights into trauma psychology? Or do the scenes just come out that way because of your experience? Give us some insight into your process.

A) Tough question. Probably a little of both. I know a great deal about the treatment of trauma, especially from a psychoanalytic standpoint, due to my studies with Robert Stolorow, one of the nation’s leading trauma experts. But I also weave in experiences of my own, as well as make good use of my clinical and creative imagination. My stories are first and foremost entertainment, but I think they’re more effective because they’re rooted in the reality of therapy practice.

Pittsburgh. Not exactly glam. What made you choose your hometown over the more traditional Los Angeles where you work now? What do you hope the story will gain from that setting?

 A) That’s easy! I love Pittsburgh, and have long felt it a perfect setting for a noir-type mystery series. The collision of old and new in contemporary Pittsburgh is an exciting aspect to work with. As to what the stories gain, I think they come off as much more believable, yet less traditional, because of the setting. Plus, the reader comes away with a real sense of what the place is like…that is, if I’ve done my job right!

The third Rinaldi mystery, NIGHT TERRORS, is due out in May. Can you give us a sneak-peek line from that book?

A) Happy to. In NIGHT TERRORS, Daniel Rinaldi is asked by the FBI to treat a retired FBI profiler who’s suffering from the condition. Once diagnosed primarily in children, more and more adults are getting treatment nowadays for the ailment. Which is what gave me the idea for the story. After twenty years inside the heads of the nation’s most notorious serial killers, the retired agent can’t fall asleep without waking up screaming, heart pounding, victimized by horrifying Night Terrors.

Making matters worse, the retired agent is also on the hit list of an unknown shooter, avenging the death of the last serial killer the agent helped put away. Though even here, nothing is exactly what it seems, and there’s a stunning, (hopefully) suspenseful series of twists and turns before the story comes to its violent conclusion.

Ink blots or word association? Our pop culture characterizes psychology as a game-like science, yet law enforcement has found great success in utilizing it in crime solving. What false portrayal of psychology or misunderstanding of method would you most like to clarify with the public?

A) That’s a huge question, much too complicated to answer in a Q&A format. But at the most basic level, I wish the public understood that clinicians themselves are only human, and that psychology is as much of an art as a science. As Jung said to his student therapists, “It’s not what you know that heals, but who you are.” I believe he’s right, but I also can see how this notion flatters the narcissist lurking inside each of us therapists!

Arnold Horshack walks into Rinaldi’s office. G’head, tell us what the doc would ask?

A) “Okay, Arnold, tell me about your relationship with your mother…”

About Lucie Smoker….

Lucie Smoker’s imagination grew up in a Little House on the Prairie and at 221b Baker Street. She was born in Natchez, Mississippi but grew up mostly in Slidell, Lousiana, Houston and Colorado Springs. Her best friends were her little sister Minnie, the Hardy Boys and The Count of Monte Cristo. Like them, her life followed a path of adventure, sometimes intrigue. Then she fell in love and finally found home down a long, empty road. She lives with her husband of twenty years plus their two boys on the great North American prairie—and mysteriously turns caffeine into stories.
Her debut novel, DISTORTION is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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