ShareThis Page

Mystery writer Palumbo keeps his voice set in Western Pa.

| Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Dennis Palumbo
Author Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Penn Press
Author Dennis Palumbo's new book is 'Phantom Limb.'

In Dennis Palumbo's new novel, “Phantom Limb” (Poisoned Pen Press), a character walks into a therapist's office and puts forth the following scenario: “I plan to kill myself at 7 o'clock tonight. Which means you have 50 minutes to talk me out of it.”

It sounds like a line from a television show or movie, especially given Palumbo's background as a screenwriter for both mediums. But the origin of the scene was not at all pleasant for Palumbo, who is a licensed psychotherapist.

“It would be (comical),” Palumbo says. “Except it happened to me. ... I had been a therapist for about a minute and a half, and a woman came in, who was about 55, and said, ‘I have the pills at home and I'm going to kill myself at 7 p.m. You have 50 minutes to talk me out of it.' ”

Palumbo, who will visit Mystery Lover's Bookshop in Oakmont on Sept. 20 to promote “Phantom Limb,” admits he was initially terrified but managed to convince the woman to schedule another appointment.

“If you can get them to come back, you've got a pretty good shot,” he says.

Palumbo, a native of Penn Hills, has lived in the greater Los Angeles area for 40 years. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, he was a staff writer for the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter” and wrote the screenplay for the film “My Favorite Year.” “Phantom Limb” is his fourth crime novel featuring Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist based in Pittsburgh.

The title refers to the sensation that a missing arm, leg or other appendage is still attached to a body. That theme is woven into a book about one of Rinaldi's patients, a former Playboy model and actress who is the wife of a rich businessman. When she's kidnapped after an appointment with the psychologist (she's the character who threatens to kill herself), Rinaldi becomes inextricably involved in solving the crime.

While Palumbo shares his character's Italian heritage, Pittsburgh background and occupation, he's admits Rinaldi can do things — such as solve crimes — beyond his scope of experience.

“But his point of view about therapy and the mental-health system comes from me,” Palumbo says. “One of the real treats about writing this series is I get to talk about the things I love, like the mental-health industry and Pittsburgh.”

Pittsburgh's prominent role in “Phantom Limb” and the rest of Palumbo's books might seem odd, given that he's not lived in Western Pennsylvania since the 1970s. But that timespan and the distance from California to Pennsylvania have allowed Palumbo to see the city in a new light.

“(Pittsburgh) has a noir quality at night that I think has been unexplored, or unexploited,” he says. “I think the fact I no longer live there allows me to have this feeling. I've been in L.A. for 40 years and to me, writing about Los Angeles would be kind of boring. These are the streets I drive through every day. I don't think it has the same resonance for me.”

What is so very L.A. is Palumbo's clinical specialty: many of his patients have “creative issues.” Often, that's just the tip of their Freudian icebergs.

“Most of my patients are writers and directors and producers and actors and set designers,” he says. “They often come in, presenting with writer's block or procrastination or fear of failure or fear of rejection, garden-variety stuff. But those things are so connected to their personal lives. Within three weeks, we're just doing regular psychotherapy.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.