Author: Daniel Palmer, Delirious

Publisher: Kensington Books

ISBN: 978-0-7582-4664-6

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In Daniel Palmer’s initial foray into the world of psychological thrillers you will find an entertaining and suspenseful read. It is the author’s first novel. Hopefully it’s not his last.

Delirious is a modern Hitchcock-like tour de force. I was continuously making comparisons to the movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Inception. The author himself compares the mental hurdles the protagonist must overcome to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. You can strike your own comparisons as you read.

The protagonist is Charlie, an obsessive techno-wizard, an engineer that plays hardball with his employees and a loner whose work is his mistress. He has just sold his West coast high-tech startup and its nascent product InVision (think talking GPS units plus Droid or iPad technology morphed into a nearly artificial intelligence) to a company in the Boston area, wangling a high managerial position in that company in the bargain. It seems that he is sitting on top of the world. Nevertheless, his world starts unraveling. He ends up losing his job and under psychiatric study for his delusions and violent tendencies. It gets worse.

Charlie’s brother, Joe, is a schizophrenic and serves like a foil to Charlie’s stability. Charlie ends up with Joe’s psychologist (highly unlikely generally speaking, but Mr. Palmer makes it plausible), who eventually comes around to seeing that Charlie is not really the violent murderer now wanted by the law. Consider Rachel the love interest a Hollywood movie would require, but she plays a more important role than girl friend of the hero. She contributes to Charlie’s angst as much as she helps at first, making him question his own sanity.

Delirium is just a name for the symptoms that Charlie faces. The why and how of the events that seem to question his sanity are the story. The person causing all these events, including the attempted murder of Joe and Charlie’s mother, was no surprise to me (see below), but the action most of the time is as intense as Charlie’s self-doubt. A little slip-up with a printer is all that stands between Charlie’s survival and the villain’s success. I know this summary sounds too simple, but Mr. Palmer is good at weaving a very complicated web of suspenseful details.

Please take most of my remaining comments as nitpicking. There are many more good things than bad done in the process of writing this novel. What I do mention are minor annoyances for me as a writer and reviewer that may mean nothing to you as a reader. Since I write in similar genres, their origin stems more from my wearing an author’s hat than a reviewer’s, but I’m gambling that the reader might appreciate the nuances. If not, stop reading now, since I may ruin this excellent book for you.

First, the book is too long. The main reason is that the writer’s mastery of language gets out of control. He is very character driven, which is fine, especially for this novel, but he must learn to leave more to the readers’ imagination. Most readers when they come to a work of this genre have active imaginations. The writer must strike a balance between too much description and too little, permitting the reader to develop his own perception of a character with few hints and fewer words. I believe Mr. Palmer does a little too much. He has an impressive list of people lauding his work, though, so maybe I’m up against a stylistic quirk that won’t matter to the average reader.

Second, I found the Prologue distracting. I know there are agents who won’t even consider a book with a Prologue. This is a good example of why. Mr. Palmer’s Prologue would have been better handled as one or more flashbacks. To me the Prologue made this book become a thriller when, without it, the novel could have been a tight and suspenseful mystery. I suspected in the beginning that the fellow in the Prologue was causing Charlie’s problems—otherwise, why mention him at all? More reading only confirmed my suspicions. Without the Prologue and just a few flashbacks for clues, the eventual discovery would come more as a surprise.

Third, and related to the distracting Prologue, is the lack of a hook. It is as if Mr. Palmer wants to use the Prologue as a hook, but it fails in that role. No real hook occurs until Chapter 6. By that point, I was already bored with the detailed analysis of the protagonist’s character. By the end of the book, I feel I know the protagonist far too well.

Fourth, and this is really nitpicking, I was annoyed by little slip-ups in the descriptions of the setting, which is the Boston area. Admittedly, I am more familiar with that area than most readers, and some of the slip-ups may only mean that the author was working on this novel for a long time, thus dating the references.

Here are a few examples: The Red Line, one of the Boston area’s subway lines, ends at Alewife Station, still in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and doesn’t go on to the suburbs. In fact, the good people of Arlington, the town next to Cambridge, didn’t want the subway, called the T, to go through their town—they wanted to keep the riff-raff from the People’s Republic of Cambridge out of their fair town! So, if you are coming from downtown on the Red Line and you want to see the Lexington Battle Green (where the shot heard round the world was fired), you have to catch a bus at Alewife, which adds considerable time to your trip.

Another example involving Boston’s T is that passengers can no longer use tokens—they have to use something called the Charlie card, named after the character in the old Kingston Trio song (which talks about the MBTA, not the MTA, the modern acronym). A final example: I believe the Greyhound Park, where dog races were held, has been closed, much to the delight of PETA and other animal rights activists.

I do remember a mental hospital (not as a patient, fortunately), in Belmont, not Waltham, but the name is McLean, not Walderman. This hospital and its doctors play a prominent role in the novel. One of the doctors, in fact, could be a suspect if this novel had eliminated the Prologue to become a mystery. Even Rachel, the love interest of the protagonist, Joe and Charlie’s psychologist, could have been a suspect. Mount Auburn Hospital is indeed a hospital in Cambridge, in fact, not that far from the Alewife T station.

Of course, the protagonist’s company and the company that bought it are fictional, but, in and around Boston, there are many similar high-tech companies, perhaps less frequent now after the dot-com bust. Greater Boston will forever be a high-tech center of excellence due to the excellent universities in the area. People automatically think Harvard or MIT, but others, including the state schools, provide smart and imaginative graduates as well as the opportunity to continue one’s education as needed.

All this points to a difficulty that every fiction writer must confront. In your setting, what do you make real and what do you make fiction? In general, Mr. Palmer has done an excellent job of striking a balance, a fact that adds to the fear and suspense. He is writing about characters who have their otherwise normal world turned upside down, peace turned into violent conflict, and sanity morphed into raw madness. It is a good yarn, but definitely not for the faint of heart.

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