Phantom Limb is the fourth in Dennis Palumbo’s Daniel Rinaldi mystery series, and if, like me, you haven’t yet read his first three efforts, number four is likely to whet your appetite. Rinaldi is a clinical psychologist working out of the University of Pittsburgh, who also does some consulting for local police. His relations with authorities are typically less than optimal. Police in novels and perhaps in real life are not particularly happy to have laymen sticking their nose into their business. Police departments tend to be territorial.
So when Lisa Harland, an aging Playboy centerfold with a less than stellar movie career, now in a marriage with a much older influential local business mogul, is kidnapped as she leaves Rinaldi’s office after an initial therapy session, Rinaldi’s involvement is not exactly welcome. Nonetheless, influential rich political donors tend to get what they want, and Harland’s husband wants not only Rinaldi involved, but the local police, the FBI, and his own personal security team involved as well. Turns out the kidnappers want him involved, too, so Rinaldi is tagged to deliver the ransom. But the kidnapping is only the beginning, in a tale involving intense family jealousies, minor league gangsters with major league pretensions, sex tapes and murder. There is plenty of plot twist and enough surprise to keep the reader turning pages with anticipation.
And if the cast of characters is not always particularly original — the tyrannical tycoon, his bitter drunken heir, his faithful lawyer, an ex-military head of security, inept police officials, psychotic killers and a criminal with brains — there are those that seem more original: a soldier back from Afghanistan minus a leg (note the title), a bar owner with emotional problems, and even the tough talking over-the-hill sex symbol. But it is Rinaldi, himself that comes off as the most original of the crew. He is an ex-boxer, but he is never presented as some physical powerhouse. He doesn’t have a beautiful love interest climbing into his bed. He sort of has a relationship with a woman who never quite makes it into this novel, but he has some competition for her favors, and the competition is a woman. He is a stickler for client confidentiality, and he takes his responsibilities seriously. Perhaps he jumps into situations without giving them sufficient thought, but that just gets him involved in the kind of troubles that makes his story interesting. He is a hero worthy of a series.
The book is set in Pittsburgh; and although never once does Palumbo mention pierogies or Yinzers, there is plenty of local color. They drink Iron City and Rolling Rock. Rich people live in Fox Chapel; less wealthy live on Mt. Washington. People plan to meet for lunch at Primanti Brothers in the Strip. They read the Post-Gazette and watch KDKA. They buck traffic on the Liberty Bridge. There is even the obligatory allusion to the laureate of the Burgh, August Wilson. Pittsburgh has a lot to offer as setting for mystery as Michael Chabon has shown; Palumbo follows in well in his large footprints.
Phantom Limb does what you want from a good mystery. It keeps you guessing. And when all is said and done it leaves you satisfied. And as luck would have it, it leaves you with a fairly clear indication that number five is just down the road.