“…BOUNDED IN A NUTSHELL…”
Danny Beckett is damaged goods, definitely residing on the “dent” side of the scratch-and-dent aisle. The major crack in his psyche occurred about two years prior when his wife died in a horrendous auto accident. Although Danny was in no way responsible for that accident, knowledge gained after her death has led him to blame himself for her being in her car on that particular road at that particular time. All he has now are nightly, traumatic dreams, his job as a Long Beach, CA, homicide detective, and his Grey Goose with MinuteMaid.
On the evening our story opens, Danny has just put his first Screwdriver to his lips when his pager goes off. A teacher at the high school across the street from his apartment has been found hacked to death in her classroom. And “hacked to death” is not a figure of speech here. She has sustained over 100 blows to her abdomen and genital areas, blows delivered by a machete-like blade. And her left hand is missing, severed when she tried to defend herself from the first blow, a blow that bisected her heart and killed her before she hit the floor.
Danny and his partner, Jennifer Tanaka, have thousands of fingerprints in that classroom but no creditable trace evidence, just blade tracks. As they and their team work to piece together Beth Williams’ life, both recent and past, trying to identify motive and trying to unearth probable suspects, upper echelon politics and the media hamper them at every turn and even derail them on several occasions.
But Danny’s mental state hampers them even more, starting when he learns that the murdered woman was one of his dead wife’s friends. He knows she looks familiar, but then she did work on the same street he travels daily. However, when he finds her name in his wife’s address book while looking for something else, he is startled. Then when he finds her picture in their wedding album, his guilt over his wife’s death is compounded. Here is just one more thing about his wife’s life that she kept from him. And it complicates the case and his involvement in it.
Danny’s emotional stability comes increasingly into question as his compounded guilt and pain make him unable to control his words or rein in his rage with any regularity. He is, quite frankly, emotionally and professionally hanging on by the smallest of threads. But his instincts as an investigator are still working just fine.
Danny twists and turns the puzzle pieces repeatedly, looking for what they’ve missed. Those cop instincts, as well as the evidence, tell him that the alibis of the three persons of interest are sound and that not one of them has the necessary motive for this particular crime. Danny knows there’s another person in play somewhere, somehow, and more rocks just need to be turned over to flush the psycho out.
However, the mayor and the deputy chief, for political reasons, need an arrest yesterday, so to speak. So they force the team into that arrest. And, as you can imagine, the wrong reasons yield seriously wrong results and an ensuing cover-up. Risking dismissal from their jobs, Danny and Jen breach the cover-up and continue their search for the real killer.
Tyler Dilts has penned a well-crafted and riveting mystery. He reveals Danny’s backstory slowly, as it pertains to the incidents at hand rather than as an info dump. In so doing, the events, as they occur, are made more dramatic, more realistic, and more enlightening as to the identity of the murderer. And because the story is told from Danny’s POV, the reader knows no more at any given time than he does, making it a true mystery for the reader to solve.
Now that doesn’t mean that the reader can’t see what’s coming before Danny and Jen do sometimes. And that fact doesn’t mean that the author’s efforts are formulaic and predictable either. They are not. It is simply a matter of Tyler Dilts’ skill at word structure and manipulation that allows the reader just a brief second of terror-filled omniscience before the character takes the blow.
In this debut novel and first in his Long Beach Homicide series, Dilts leads us by logic and reason to a creature ruled by illogic and insanity. He ends the tale with a serious twist but not a cliffhanger. He leaves us with several hooks that can lead to future entries in the series. But it is hard to tell if he leaves Danny in a better place than when he started or a worse one. Methinks it’s a little bit of the first and a whole lot of the second, but that’s what a second book is meant to resolve.
Cover Art From Goodreads