I wasn’t a fan of David Baldacci’s Camel Club series* but have loved almost everything he’s published since. Indeed, his books take up quite a bit of real estate on my bookshelves. I particularly love his Amos Decker and Atlee Pine series but somehow I missed the first in his new historical crime fiction series featuring ex-con Aloysius Archer.
And I enjoyed this so much I’m going to be hunting down its predecessor, One Good Deed.
A Gambling Man
by David Baldacci
Series: Archer #2
Published by Grand Central Publishing, Macmillan
Genres: Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction
ISBN: 1538719673, 9781760985325
The 1950s are on the horizon, and Archer is in dire need of a fresh start after a nearly fatal detour in Poca City. So Archer hops on a bus and begins the long journey out west to California, where rumor has it there is money to be made if you’re hard-working, lucky, criminal—or all three.
Along the way, Archer stops in Reno, where a stroke of fortune delivers him a wad of cash and an eye-popping blood-red 1939 Delahaye convertible—plus a companion for the final leg of the journey, an aspiring actress named Liberty Callahan who is planning to try her luck in Hollywood. But when the two arrive in Bay Town, California, Archer quickly discovers that the hordes of people who flocked there seeking fame and fortune landed in a false paradise that instead caters to their worst addictions and fears.
Archer’s first stop is a P.I. office where he is hoping to apprentice with a legendary private eye and former FBI agent named Willie Dash. He lands the job, and immediately finds himself in the thick of a potential scandal: a blackmail case involving a wealthy well-connected politician running for mayor that soon spins into something even more sinister. As bodies begin falling, Archer and Dash must infiltrate the world of brothels, gambling dens, drug operations, and long-hidden secrets, descending into the rotten bones of a corrupt town that is selling itself as the promised land—but might actually be the road to perdition, and Archer’s final resting place.
It didn’t actually matter that I’d missed One Good Deed because Baldacci recaps everything we want to know. I’m intrigued however because obviously the events in that book motivate Archer to turn his talents to sleuthing.
I don’t read historical fiction. If I pick up a book and the blurb mentions one of the World Wars or the Vietnam War I put it back down. Let alone anything set more than a century ago. (Unless there’s a dual timeline, in which case I can occasionally cope!)
This is set in the late 1940s and I noted Baldacci commented somewhere that it meant he didn’t need to work out how to factor COVID into the plot.
I really liked Archer. I mean, we’re supposed to of course. He’s a straight shooter. Like Baldacci’s other creations (Decker and Pine) he’s all about justice rather than the law. He’s witty, irreverent and quite righteous. He may not have overtaken Robert B Parker’s Spenser as my fave dick / PI / gumshoe but he’s in with a chance and I suspect I’ll enjoy his company the more time we spend together.
We meet him enroute to California where he’s to be mentored by old school private eye Willie Dash. Of course he runs into some trouble on the way. I initially expected he’d stall in Reno and be waylaid throughout the novel, but his stop is brief. And slightly fraught.
Archer’s joined (on his literal journey) by a woman he stumbles across in Reno and there’s some sexual tension. Liberty Callahan is great. Sassy and ambitious. Naive but cynical at the same time. She’s a nightclub performer but wants to break into Hollywood. Her presence here is fortuitous because – along with his new boss – Archer is thrown into a case involving a burlesque dancer.
Archer’s mentor, Dash, reminded me of the old TV show Jake and the Fatman. As in, the older overweight unwell member of the duo. One who like Hercule Poirot relies on his mind more than his physicality to solve crimes.
He and Archer are opposites but – happily – gel in a way that engendered by mutual respect. We don’t spend a lot of time with Dash, or learn much about his history, but I enjoyed meeting him here.
The case on offer here is twisty. I wondered if Baldacci had thrown in a twist or two more than needed and the jury is still out on that. He does keep us guessing however and we’re reminded that the most obvious answer is sometimes the right one.
I enjoyed this book a lot and I’m already looking forward to Aloysius Archer #3.
A Gambling Man by David Baldacci was published in Australia by PanMacmillan and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
*featuring a sub-genre that didn’t interest me.