My favorite crime novels care about the victim. They don't forget that a person—albeit a fictional one—died to put the story in motion. Tyler Dilts's protagonist, detective Danny Beckett, cares about the deceased when no one else does. He's on a mission to discover who the dead man was and what brought him to the circumstances of his final days. There's a heart to this mystery that is both tender and broken.
Tyler uses the framework of the investigation to communicate something about the human condition. We are, he shows us, more than just a name, a social security number, a height, weight, shoe size, eye color. We strive to connect, to be understood—and Beckett wants to understand the victim of this terrible crime. He inventories the dead man's shopping cart, which contains all his earthly possessions.
To tell the story of the man, Beckett has "Fleece blanket, recently laundered" the way Hemingway had "Baby shoes, never worn." The detective pieces together an identity for the dead man so he can understand the world that killed him.
Tyler has crafted both their stories carefully, as one man's death leads another man to face the missing pieces of his own life.
A Cold and Broken Hallelujah is a short, easy read. It's a crime story that grabbed my attention with the shock of a homeless man being burned to death by a group of teenagers, and then kept me hooked through the suspense of the investigation.
We get to know Detective Danny Beckett as he investigates the case. As a hard-working police officer in Long Beach with a couple of side stories from his past to help us understand who he is, Danny is a very likeable character. He obsesses over the case and needs to find out who the victim was - not just for identification purposes but for a deeper reason that Danny himself doesn't quite understand.
When I first finished the book I felt a slight lack of closure, but then as I had time to let it sink in I realized that the "end of the story" wasn't what it was about. Dilts purposefully leaves the reader with some deeper things to think about. It's a crime story with a life lesson and I enjoyed it. I would not hesitate to read more by Dilts.