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Posts Tagged ‘mysteries’

Denver’s Nick and Nora: Real-Life Private Eyes in the News

Posted by Writing PIs on September 1, 2011

You know us as the Writing PIs. In this week’s Westword, Denver’s weekly independent newspaper, we’re also “these married Denver detectives” in the paper’s cover story:

That cover is pretty cool (see above). They made it look like a beat-up dime novel with a tough, noir-ish private eye in a fedora and trenchcoat, holding a gun. The top right “page” corner is folded over, like you’re keeping your place in the paperback story. The reporter, Melanie Asmar, met with us between three and four times for interviews…toward the end she told us of her vision for the story (layering a writer’s PI story, based on one of our cases with us as the story’s protagonists, with interviews with us). She did a fantastic job.

To read about our cases, how we became PIs, and more than you probably ever wanted to know about a couple of married Denver detectives, click on the below link:

Westword: The Plot Thickens

Have a great week, Writing PIs AKA Denver’s Nick and Nora

Posted in Westword: The Plot Thickens | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Interview with Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image

Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2010

“Dennis Palumbo establishes himself as a master story-teller with his first crime novel, Mirror Image.  Using his background as a licensed psychotherapist to good advantage, Palumbo infuses his fast-moving, suspenseful story with fascinating texture, interesting characters, and the twists, turns and surprises of a mind-bending mystery. Very impressive.”
~Stephen J. Cannell (writer/creator of The Rockford Files; New York Times best-selling mystery author)

From Colleen, one of your Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s author-PIs:  I first met Dennis Palumbo over thirty years ago when we toiled together on a Hollywood sitcom (I was the “script girl” and he was a staff writer).  Afterward, he continued building a successful career as a Hollywood writer, eventually co-writing the Oscar-nominated film My Favorite Year.  After working through a mid-life crisis by living in and trekking through Nepal, Dennis became a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues while writing non-fiction (Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within, articles, blogs) as well as mysteries (From Crime to Crime by and his current release Mirror Image by Poisoned Pen Press, the first in a series featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police).  Thanks to Dennis for virtually sitting down with Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes for this interview!

Book Giveaway: On Sunday, August 22, a name will be picked from everyone who posts a comment–that person will receive an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image. When leaving a comment, be sure to include your email address so you can be easily reached if you’re the lucky winner!

Interview with Dennis Palumbo

You’ve had a heady string of life experiences and successes…how did you end up writing mysteries?

As a reader, I’ve loved mysteries since my Dad bought me an illustrated collection of Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid (I can still smell that crisp hardcover binding!). Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading mysteries and thrillers over the years, especially those of authors capable of blending puzzling stories with rich characters.  One of my first published short stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I’ve been writing whodunnits ever since. Though I did publish a novel before (City Wars, Bantam Books), it was a sci-fi thriller.  Mirror Image is my first crime novel, as well as the first in a new series set in Pittsburgh, my home town.

You started out performing and writing a stand-up comedy act.  This led to Gabe Kaplan asking you to write jokes for him, which led to your writing for the sit-com Welcome Back, Kotter, among other TV writing jobs.  If a writer has a funny streak and has an eye on a Hollywood writing career, would you still recommend stand-up comedy as a possible showcase as a writer?

Absolutely, since, as a newcomer, it is always hard to get people in the industry to read your work. In fact, I only did stand-up because I wanted some producer or network exec to see my act and hire me to write for a show. Believe me, I wasn’t a very good comic, though a few of my routines were funny enough to get Gabe’s attention. Though by then I had joined with another (much funnier) writer named Mark Evanier, with whom I went on staff on Kotter as part of a writing team.

In your profession as a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, you’ve worked with many writers, both unpublished and published.  What is one often-heard concern writers have about their profession, and how do you address it?

That question has two prongs to it: in terms of the craft of writing itself, I usually hear from writer patients dealing with writers’ block, procrastination, fear of failure, etc. In terms of the business, there’s the ever-present concerns of making a living, staying viable in a rapidly changing business, getting the opportunity to do the kind of work you really care about. Both these aspects of the writing life are stressful, and, as we work together in treatment, we find they are inevitably entwined with long-standing personal issues.

A fiction writer forwarded this question: “Do you have any advice for surviving and thriving in the totally unpredictable world of writing — where you’re up one day and out the door the next?”

Well, the worst thing you can do is try to predict or latch on to the latest trends. The marketplace is so fickle, it’s always best to write that which moves and excites you, and hope that others agree. Darryl Hickman, a wonderful acting teacher, once said something about the difficulty of breaking in as an actor…and I think it applies equally well to writers. He said, “Keep giving them you, until you is what they want.”

In this month’s review of Mirror Image on Book Bitch (, the reviewer applauds the “great main character” Dr. Rinaldi and compares your efforts to Jonathan Kellerman’s.  Lovely compliment, and do you agree: Is your style similar to Jonathan Kellerman?

It is a nice compliment, since Kellerman’s books are both well-plotted and enormously successful. However, our writing styles are not much alike. Nor are the stories we tell. Plus, while Daniel Rinaldi is also a consultant with the police, he’s somewhat more tortured than Alex Delaware!

In your article “Taking the Mystery out of Writing Mysteries” you refer to a quote from Michael Connelly (“The best mysteries are about the mystery of character”).  Tell us about the mysteries of the protagonist in Mirror Image, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi.

Well, without giving away too much of the story, Daniel Rinaldi’s own struggle to recover from a trauma in his personal life inspires him to treat other victims of violent crime. Add to this his uneasy, somewhat haunted relationship with his late disapproving father, his own quick temper and maverick approach to doing therapy, and you have a recipe for a strong though complicated lead character. I hope!

Thank you for your answers, Dennis, and for offering an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image to a name selected from this week’s comments!

Praise for Mirror Image

Mirror Image is a rich, complex thriller, built around a sizzling love affair. A compelling read, with surprising twists and characters that leap off the page.”
~Bobby Moresco (Oscar-winning writer/producer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby)

“Mirror Image is a deviously plotted thriller with lots of shocks and surprises you won’t see coming, and a smart, sympathetic hero-narrator who takes you along as he peels back layers of lies and wrong guesses to get closer to the truth.”
~Thomas Perry (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling crime novelist)

“Dennis Palumbo’s experience as a psychotherapist hasn’t just helped him make his hero, therapist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, authentic, human and a man in full, it’s endowed him with the insight to craft a debut thriller filled with action, deduction and romance, expertly paced for maximum suspense.”
~Dick Lochte, award-winning author and critic

“Dennis Palumbo’s novel is stark and disturbing but there’s a humanity running through the core of it that makes this book special.  Maybe it’s Palumbo’s dual training – as a writer and as a psychotherapist – that allows him to plumb the depths and bring up not only darkness but those occasional diamonds of light that sparkle and illuminate and make a book worth reading.”
~T. Jefferson Parker (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling author of The Renegades and Iron River)

Mirror Image is a standout mind-bender! A wonderfully constructed novel that has you seeing double — and all through the eyes of an intriguingly fresh character: a psychologist.  Dennis Palumbo knows his craft.  This guy can write.”
~Ridley Pearson (New York Times best-selling crime author)

“A gripping thriller, chock full of the desired twists and cliffhangers, with the added layer and intriguing access of a therapist  narrator/detective.  A page turner!”
~Aimee Bender (New York Times best-selling author of An Invisible Sign of My Own)

Mirror Image Synopsis

MIRROR IMAGE, a complex, erotic novel of suspense, is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime—those who’ve survived an armed robbery or kidnapping, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them.

Kevin Merrick, a college student and victim of an armed assault, is one of these people.

A fragile, troubled kid desperate for a role model, a sense of identity, Kevin has begun dressing like Rinaldi, acting like him, mirroring his appearance. Before Daniel has a chance to work this through with his patient, he finds Kevin brutally murdered. Stunned, he and the police suspect that he, not Kevin, had been the intended target.

Feeling responsible, Rinaldi is determined to help find the killer, who’s begun leaving death threats for the psychologist. His journey takes him through a labyrinth of friends and colleagues, any one of whom may be the killer. It also includes an affair with a beautiful, free-spirited Assistant DA with secrets of her own. And when Kevin’s identity as the estranged son of a Bill Gates-like biotech giant is revealed, the investigation of his murder turns into a national story…even as another person turns up dead.

Mirror Image at Amazon:

Mirror Image at Poisoned Pen Press:

Posted in Dennis Palumbo, Interviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Answering Writers’ Questions about PIs: Crime Scenes, Naming Sources

Posted by Writing PIs on October 13, 2009


This post, we’re answering writers’ questions about crime scenes and naming sources.

Crime Scenes

Writer’s Question:  Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up.  What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?)  I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.

Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer::  A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence.  Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.

Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood).  Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it.  In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody.  There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.

Naming Sources

Writer’s Question: Do PIs always need to name their sources? You know how reporters don’t need to name theirs?

Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer: PIs working for attorneys cannot reveal sources without the attorney’s permission. If a PI isn’t working for an attorney, and there is no state statute protecting the PI (for instance, some state statutes create a legal privilege ensuring confidentiality for PIs and their investigative sources), then the PI can be ordered by the court to reveal her source. Under these circumstances, if a PI is on the stand and she refuses to identify how she obtained said information (the source), she could be held in contempt of court and jailed (similar to what’s happened to reporters).

holmes silhouette

October 19-26, 2009: We’re teaching Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA at  Class blurb below:

Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA: An introduction to crime scenes and homicide investigations (topics include key tasks covered by law enforcement, a general introduction to estimating time of death and types of wounds, and how a PI might be called upon to aid in a homicide investigation). Class concludes with a discussion of DNA, its testing, how it might be deposited by a suspect, and how it’s used in court proceedings. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.

Posted in Q&As | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Snitches: Truth for Hire?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2009

snitchYesterday we saw the movie The Informant! starring Matt Damon.  It’s an interesting and entertaining trip into the psychology of a snitch, one Shaun (who’s cross-examined dozens of snitches in the courtroom) thought mirrored reality.  Of course, not all snitches have the mental issues Matt Damon’s character had in the movie, but in general snitches are self-motivated, frightened criminals who will do or say anything for something in return.  The currency paid to informants is, in a great majority of the cases, dismissal of charges, shortened prison terms, and/or promises of probation.

“Years ago in a multi-defendant murder trial,” says Shaun, “the prosecution made a deal with the acknowledged shooter, we’ll call Informant X, to dismiss the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against our client.  Informant X was also looking at federal kidnapping charges for abducting and harming a witness.  One of the first questions we asked Informant X in our cross-examination was whether he would lie to spare his own life.  In a moment of disarming honesty, he smiled at the jury and agreed he would.”

It’s extremely rare for a snitch to as honest as in the above example.  So why are they used?  Prosecutors consider using snitches or informants to be a necessary evil because it’s awkward if not impossible to place law enforment in the middle of numerous ongoing, concurrent criminal enterprises, from drug dealing to extortion to homicides.   Therefore, snitches become necessary, and prosecutors roll the dice in a gamble that a jury will believe the informant. 

Using a snitch in your story?  They’re great characters for throwing a wrench into a plot, frustrating a seasoned prosecutor, even adding some comic relief.  Snitches are, like the people they testify against, dishonest, typically drug/alcohol addicted, and self-interested.  It is no wonder that the truth suffers at their hands.   Anyone looking to catch a snitch in a lie (such as a PI working for the defense attorney) will look carefully at the snitch’s conduct in the months before they take the stand.  Inevitably, snitches get into even more criminal trouble after making deals with the government. 

We’ll end this post with an article on the psychology of snitches and a defense lawyer’s no-snitches clause:

‘Courthouse Snitches’ Likely to Provide False Information:

“The No-Snitches Clause”:


Posted in PI Topics, Snitches: Truth for Hire? | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Answering Writers’ Questions About Surveillance and Law Enforcement & PIs Working Together

Posted by Writing PIs on July 6, 2009

To all those who celebrate the 4th, hope you had a great one!

It’s nearly July 6, next to the last day of Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes virtual open house. Everyone who comments July 1-July 7 is eligible for gifts, from books to T-shirts to a book-safe-storage (see picture of one in July 1 post).  Winners names to be picked July 8!

bullFor those keeping track, I’m now “outta the wild” (see last post).  Lost cell transmission for hours (and hours) which concerned Shaun to the point that he contacted the sheriff’s office of the region I was in.  Before I’d left “into the wild” on this rural surveillance, I’d had a lengthy meeting with several of the sheriffs for that region…however, when Shaun called their office, he got someone new and they said they’d never heard of me.  One of those small-town mis-communications, funny in retrospect, although it wasn’t very funny to Shaun at the time (hence Grumpy, grumpywhich is how Shaun got). For those writing sleuth tales, think of the ramifications of such a disconnect in your own stories.

Meanwhile, we thought it’d be interesting to post some more recent writers’ questions about PIs, from a client “riding along” on a surveillance to whether law enforcement and PIs ever work together. 

WRITER’S QUESTION:  I’ve heard it’s illegal for a client to ride along on a surveillance with a PI in some states. How would we know which states it is illegal in? I’m sure there will be other things that come up that vary from state to state?  Should we call a PI from our state to ask?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES ANSWER: Calling a PI in your state is a good resource. If you are in a state where PIs are licensed, contact the licensing authority for guidance on these  matters (typically this licensing authority will be within the state dept.  of regulatory agencies or the state police).

WRITER’S QUESTION: Do police hire PIs for help?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES ANSWER: More likely, the police would cooperate with PIs on a case (although this isn’t common, it’s certainly occurred. For example, a few years ago, the NY police cooperated with local PIs to break a theft ring in the garment district). A key reason the police wouldn’t hire (versus cooperate w/) PIs is that by their employing a private citizen (such as a PI), the police lose “the color of government authority” including the ability to obtain warrants, rely on rules for search/seizure (such as the fellow officer rule), and finally the law enforcement agency concerned does not want the liability of a contract employee who is more than likely carrying a weapon and who very well may not carry enough insurance.

Saying all this, it’s plausible that a government agency other than a law-enforcement agency might hire a PI to do an independent investigation. Here in Colorado, a county commissioner office hired a Denver PI to conduct an investigation of sexual harrassment and financial misappropriation by an elected county official, who could not have been independently investigated by the sheriff’s office for that county (because of the close ties between the 2
offices, both elected offices).

Post a comment/questions, and we’ll be happy to answer.  Next post will be July 8 with the “virtual open house” winners’ names, so stay tuned…

Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 75 Comments »

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