Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo
Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo (Poisoned Pen Press, 2011) is one of these genuinely non-stop action thrillers in which a bulletproof hero, this time a psychologist called Daniel Rinaldi who specialises in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), solves a major crime or two. I seem to have missed out on an exciting lifestyle by not learning to shoot or box when I was young. The heroes of these thrillers have all mastered jaw-smashing or kneecapping with a baseball bat by the time they get into the secondary school system. Then it just requires a few years shooting squirrels in the backwoods and, bingo, they’re ready to be a psychologist with a Rambo veneer. This is Rinaldi’s second appearance, the first being Mirror Image. He has also had a traumatic experience. This gives him a convenient insight into PTSD and allows him an almost instant rapport with those who have been through similarly violent events. Yet, instead of emerging with hypervigilance and a desire to hide under the nearest table if anyone coughs unexpectedly, this guy runs towards death with his arms open shouting, “You’d better shoot me before I tear your head off,” or something equally calming to establish a rapport with the man pointing a gun at him.
Anyway, this paragon of empathy with suicidal tendencies, is called to the scene of a bank raid gone wrong. It seems two men stormed in, shot out the cameras and took the staff hostage. One robber then left — he had another appointment to keep. However, as part of the negotiation, the remaining robber has released a woman. Not surprisingly, the SWAT team needs to know what they might be facing if they storm in. Our expert gets a few details, but there are shots fired inside the bank and, unable to wait, SWAT snipers and kevlar-coated troops cry havoc and act like the dogs of war. Moments later, the only survivor is the bank guard who has also been shot in the arm by the snipers. And there does seem to be only one robber, now deceased. Obviously, this is a high-profile operation and there’s a real risk of a public relations nightmare. Unfortunately, Leland Sinclair, the current DA, is running for governor and wants to put the best possible spin on this SWAT action. Voters may lack confidence to push him over the electoral line if they think his law enforcers shoot robbers and their hostages indiscriminately. This puts our hero in the frame since one of the two surviving witnesses is in shock. At this point, word comes in that the ambulance taking the guard and the witness to hospital has been involved in an accident. There are more dead at the scene.
As you will understand, this sets us off on an inherently interesting chase. We have a manhunt for at least one robber and then there’s the fall-out from the accident involving the ambulance. Now to keep things on the boil, there’s an attempt to assassinate Leland Sinclair and what looks to be a routine suicide in the clinic called Ten Oaks where our hero worked as an intern. And could that be a bomb in the building to be used for a televised debate by the candidates? On the way, our hero gets shot at several times, hit over the head, drugged into unconsciousness, and variously assaulted. He’s tied up and escapes. In short, he’s a regular Hasbro figure waiting for action to find him. I take all this and more because the way it’s written carries you along in excitement. When you look back, it’s all rather silly, but there’s a real page-turning quality at work here.
There’s one moment of unfairness towards the end when we know relevant information has been received but, to allow us to get into a tense ending, it’s withheld. I suppose this is a legitimate ploy — it’s fairly obvious what it must be although which of the remaining people must therefore be responsible is less predictable. When you put all this together, Fever Dream is a genuinely enjoyable read. There’s some nice deductive reasoning on display and, although the level of violence is more appropriate to a comic or Hollywood movie, this is a nicely worked mystery novel.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.