Dennis Palumbo’s novel Mirror Image is the first in a series of bomirror imageoks about Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is dealing with victims of violent crime, those people who’ve lived through a traumatic experience which continues to haunt them in their everyday life. People like Kevin Merrick, a college student who woke up one night to discover he was not alone in his residence, and discovered a burglar. Although the culprit was captured, Kevin continues to have the nightmares and the fears just aren’t going away… but Dr. Rinaldi is making real progress with him and is very hopeful that Kevin will get better…

Unfortunately, after leaving Rinaldi’s office one evening, Kevin gets stabbed. The odd thing is that Kevin had recently begun dressing like Rinaldi, trying to become more like him – growing facial hair, wearing similar clothes, etc. Was the killer after Kevin, or was his intended target Dr. Rinaldi all along? And if it’s the latter, will the killer strike again?

Mirror Image is the debut novel in a series, and if I’ve done my research correctly, it is the author’s first full-length mystery novel. As such it’s rather impressively written. Many scenes which would ordinarily be used as worthless padding turn out to be much more important in the grand scheme of things, and the plot of the novel is important. Don’t get me wrong: characterization is important as well, but your time is not being wasted in the name of character development (too often used as a synonym for “I can’t plot”).

That being said, this novel also shows many of classic first-mystery weaknesses. Although I liked the plot’s importance, the plot itself is a bit obvious to solve – after the first dozen chapters, I was relatively sure who the killer was and who his intended victim was. The more I read, the more convinced I was that I was right, and it pained me to see the Die Hard 2 manoeuvre (in which the hero stupidly trusts the obvious “twist-villain”). (A reminder that I’m using the pronoun formerly known as “he” for convenience, and I could just as easily be referring to a man or a woman here. Or a combination thereof.)

This is not a book for everyone. This is a dark and gritty book. The very first chapter has a nasty description of incestuous activities that took place between Kevin and his sister when he was a young boy. There’s more where that scene came from, but at least it doesn’t happen in every chapter. There is some positively sickening stuff going on in this book, and it’s supposed to be sickening. It’s also relevant to the plot. If you are able to steel yourself for the more graphic moments, you may enjoy the book.

The characters are well-developed and interesting for the most part, and they avoid most of the clichés the modern writer. Daniel Rinaldi makes for a decent, likable protagonist, and I enjoyed following him around as he pieced this case together. The cops he encounters tend to be on the interesting side as well, and although they can be a little brash, they aren’t sadistic or anything like that. If there’s any weakness in terms of characters, it would be Rinaldi’s fellow professionals, especially one loudmouthed doctor who doesn’t like Rinaldi and is sure to advertise the fact. For some reason or other, they just never seem as interesting or as complex as Rinaldi does.

Mirror Image is a very solid book, though it has some of the typical problems a mystery writer encounters on his first go-round. The main character is very interesting and likable, and because the story is told through his eyes, it’s an interesting and enjoyable ride. The plot goes through many twists and turns, and although its ultimate shape is a bit obvious, the journey it takes to get there will hold your interest. Those who can stomach the more graphic scenes will likely walk away entertained.