Long Beach homicide detective Danny Beckett is in touch with his own mortality. Danny’s hand was nearly severed in a previous case. He came very close to bleeding to death. In the year following that incident, “hardly a day” passed when he didn’t contemplate his demise. Says Danny, “I learned what the muzzle of a gun tasted like and made a list of songs to play at my funeral.”
That list of tunes yields the chapter titles for Come Twilight, from “Cadillac Ranch” to “Whither Must I Wander” to “Seat at the Table.” The idea of the list also generates the title of the novel (and it’s fairly slick how Dilts works that in.) Music informs and infuses Danny’s life and, therefore, many of the pages here. George Pelecanos (whose stories take place about 3,000 miles away) and Tyler Dilts would make for a fine pair of DJ’s at your next party. They both have a fondness for the occasional obscure track or artist, but both are such music champions that their stories, well, hum along. Literally.
Danny Beckett is prone to go off on thoughts about the music. He apparently had some different views on bands with his late wife. He ruminates quite a bit about the songs to be played at his funeral, which ideally would include every song Bruce Springsteen ever wrote. (If he ever dies, it’s going to be one long service). If that’s enough music to imbue this solid mystery, Danny Beckett is also learning banjo.
Danny Beckett is also focused on a puzzling murder investigation that appears to be a suicide but is not. And then Beckett’s worries about death are given a fresh jolt when a bomb turns his car into a “jagged mess of metal and plastic” while it’s at the repair shop. The moment makes Beckett realize that he could have been killed and also gives him a chance to think about what it’s like to be a victim. So Beckett is ordered to lay low while his would-be assassin is hunted down, hampering his style. Beckett doesn’t do well with limits of any kind. More misery awaits Beckett and, well, along come more opportunities to contemplate that list of tunes.
Dilts’ writing is so smooth you could skip a stone across its surface. “My eyes were locked on the water glass on the table in front of me. I should have told her about the bomb as soon as I found out. Instead, I’d kept it to myself, wanting to believe that if I pretended hard enough, I could make it go away. Or that it would turn out to be a false alarm or somehow easily resolved and I’d be able to laugh it off. The truth was that if I acknowledged the reality of the situation to her, I’d have to acknowledge it to myself, too.”
We are thoroughly grounded in Beckett’s three-dimensional world, both the case itself and the weight of his personal issues as he rebuilds a new life with Julia, an artsy photographer.
Come Twilight offers up solid clue-finding and plenty of Long Beach atmosphere, down to Beckett’s choice for various edibles from carne asada to choice omelets to calzones. There are pop culture references from “Downtown Abbey” to “Game of Thrones” and “The Bachelor.” There are podcasts, too, and all the aforementioned music. The point is that Danny Beckett may be overly focused on the songs for his funeral but he is taking in the world and he is very much alive.
Danny Beckett may not know he’s enjoying life, because he’s so good at denial, but we do.
Tyler Dilts on Facebook
(Scroll down for Tyler’s YouTube links to all the chapter titles/songs referenced in Come Twilight.)