The PI And The Show Girl:
In One Good Deed (2019), David Baldacci had introduced a new series hero called Aloysius Archer, a World War II veteran, who was released from prison on parole for a crime he did not commit. He takes a bus ride to Poca City with a list of what he can and cannot do, plus a parole office keeping an eye on him. He breaks a single rule and it’s back behind bars. Of course, a few hours of good behaviour and Archer is plunged into a mess of murder, intrigue and treachery.
In A Gambling Man, the second book in the Archer series, he is free and clear to go to California with a letter of recommendation to private eye Willie Dash, and the hope of starting a career as a detective. Archer cannot avoid trouble, however, and a brief stopover in Reno ends up with him getting gangsters on his back, but he also acquires a flashy car (a French Delahaye) and a feisty travelling companion in the form of a dancer, Liberty Callahan, who wants to make it to Hollywood.
The advantage of setting a book in the 1940s is that political correctness can be set aside, so the femmes can be as fatales as the writer wants them to be. Also investigation is a proper pavement-pounding ‘gumshoe’ job without computers and cell phones to make it easier.
If Poca City was a crime-filled hellhole, Bay City, California is much worse. Dash, as colourful a character as they come, hires Archer as an apprentice and the first case they get is to find out who is trying to blackmail mayoral candidate, Douglas Kemper. The trail leads to a nightclub, and a spate of murders starts. Of course, the finger points at Kemper, especially since his enigmatic wife Beth does not bother to speak up for him. In crime thrillers, the most obvious candidate is never the killer, so Archer has to follow complicated clues to catch the villain. Callahan turns out to be an able and fearless assistant, who is sassy enough to flirt with a suspicious cop and can also shoot straight. She has the singing talent to bring the house down at the nightclub and when the plot needs a damsel in distress, she just happens to be around to get kidnapped.
Embracing the noir genre with gusto, Baldacci creates some memorable characters—even the elevator man in Dash’s building gets a spicy backstory—and slinky, sexy women who survive as best as they can in a pre-feminist world. It would be a pity if Liberty Callahan does not reappear in the next book in the series. If this one’s anything to go by, Archer #3 is likely to be set in Golden Age Hollywood. This series is just begging to be filmed! Interesting, both books have secretly gay couples, before homosexuality was accepted in the US and Baldacci speaks out in their favour in the voice of one of his characters. Hat tip for inclusivity!
A Gambling Man
By David Baldacci
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing