I have just finished reading Dennis Palumbo's book, Fever Dream, the second in a series of action-packed, cleverly constructed tales featuring Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with the Pittsburgh Police Department treating victims of violent crimes. The intricate plot twists and surprises keep the reader turning pages, and the short chapters invite us to read just one more. To my surprise, I finished the book in just one sitting.
However, it wasn't just the intricate story that kept me riveted; it was the writer's in-depth understanding of trauma. As a therapist myself, I appreciate the author's emphasis on the need for his character Rinaldi to be able to put himself into the "world" -- the subjective experience -- of a patient who's in a traumatized state.
Drawing heavily on Dr. Robert Stolorow's groundbreaking work on trauma (See "Counting My People"), Palumbo -- this Hollywood-screenwriter-turned-psychotherapist -- deepens the mystery story with his own clinical observations of traumatized patients gleaned over his 24 years in the field of psychology.
The theme of trauma spills over into Palumbo's poignant, intensely vivid descriptions of his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The author's strong sense of place makes this city I've never seen come alive for me, as if I'm familiar with its essence.
Pittsburgh itself becomes one of the characters, struggling between the old and the new, gentrification versus the old blue-collared immigrant identity, and the anxiety that comes with the loss of an identifiable culture. The story of Pittsburgh is being repeated all over this country, where the uncertainty that comes with modernity weighs heavily on all of us.
The character of Daniel Rinaldi is that of a flawed human being who's learned -- through his own work on himself -- to trust his own impulses and instincts. Using his capacity to empathize with others, Daniel intuitively solves puzzles that others can't -- though despite his herculean efforts for the Police Department, he remains a thorn in their side. I'm sure this theme will be further developed in future books in the series.
I look forward to reading Night Terrors, the third book in the series, and to seeing what mind-bending new mystery Dr. Rinaldi will solve.