Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on A Gambling Man by David Baldacci. This is the second book in what is now the Aloysius Archer series, which is most excellent news for me as I loved the first book, One Good Deed. Now David Baldacci will be appearing at First Monday Crime in April and so I have to thank the lovely FMC team and to publishers Pan Macmillan for sending me an advance reader copy so that I got to tuck into this treat well in advance. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Evoking the golden age of crime, and for fans of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie, comes A Gambling Man, from one of the world’s bestselling thriller writers, David Baldacci.
A lucky roll of the dice
California, 1949. Aloysius Archer is on his way to start a new job with a renowned Private Investigator in Bay Town. Feeling lucky, he stops off at a casino in Reno, where he meets an aspiring actress, Liberty Callahan. Together, they head west on a journey filled with danger and surprises – because Archer isn’t the only one with a secretive past.
A risk worth taking
Arriving in a town rife with corruption, Archer is tasked with finding out who is doing everything they can to disrupt the appointment of a top official. Then two seemingly unconnected people are murdered at a burlesque club. In a tight-lipped community, Archer must dig deep to reveal the connection between the victims.
All bets are off
As the final perilous showdown unfurls, Archer will need all of his skills to decipher the truth from the lies and finally, to prove she’s a star in the making, will Liberty have her moment in the spotlight?
I have to be honest – I think I developed a little bit of a book crush on Aloysius Archer when I first met him back in One Good Deed. The principled, straight thinking, former soldier and ex-con really made an impression, and so I was absolutely thrilled to learn this was going to become a series after all. It was obvious there was scope for it, and with archer leaving his former probation town of Poca Raton for a new start as a trainee Private Eye on the West Coast, the possibilities are most definitely thrilling to think about. And for a man who you think would want to keep his nose clean, Archer has a way of finding trouble. Or maybe it is trouble that keeps finding him.
Now this is a story which almost seems to be in two halves – the before and after of Archer’s arrival in Bay Town. The before is a segment which is full of colourful characters and smoking action, as Archer decides to take a stop over in Reno. Here he finds himself caught up with two very different people – inveterate gambler, Robert Howells – or Bobby H as he’s known to his friends – and nightclub performer and aspiring Hollywood actress Liberty Callahan. It wouldn’t take a genius to work out which of the pair has the majority of Archer’s interest, but it would be wrong to assume that Bobby H doesn;t have a key part to play in Archer’s future. Stepping in to help the old guy lands Archer, and Liberty by association, in some very hot water leading to some of the most surprising scenes of the novel. The whole encounter plays out in proper 1950’s style, captured perfectly on the page, and leaving me wondering how much of this early story will come back to haunt the pair later. It certainly sets up the second half of the book brilliantly, painting a very clear picture of post war America, and the cultural differences between the gambling state of Nevada, and California, where gambling has been slowly outlawed and where movies and money do the talking.
I really do like that way in which David Baldacci has set up Archer as a character. He is far from perfect, but he is a man of real moral fibre, perhaps even slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to his views on equality and the respect he has for women, much to the disappointment of Liberty at times. Yes he is an ex-con, but he is a man who is a victim of circumstance and maybe a little ill-judgement, not a hardened criminal. He knows how to handle himself in a fight, has a healthy mistrust of others and is a very quick study, something that will stand him in good stead in his new career as private-eye of ‘gumshoe’, working for Willie Dash with his ‘very private investigations’. As an ex-cop, Willie Dash makes a great mentor for Archer, albeit that he is possibly headed towards the end of his career. I warmed to his character quickly, his touch of cynicism, and his ability to read all of the people around him.
Their first case together is intriguing – investigating the attempted blackmail of a local businessman who is standing for the newly available role of Mayor in Bay Town. As we quickly learn, nothing in the town is quite as pleasant as you might hope, and the thick fogs which roll in off the Atlantic are helping to cloak the darker side of a city built on one family’s money and power. This is a classic P.I. tale, seeing Archer taking on very clear corruption and power plays, ones which soon turn deadly. He has to rely on wits, and some very canny investigating in order to get to the truth, and the secrets and lies that are unearthed are as twisted as the roads up into the mountains where the very affluent reside and look down on their ‘kingdom’.
What I have loved about these books is that you really do get that 1950’s vibe from the narrative. There is a real sense of place, a feeling of everything being just on the cusp of something bigger and set up for some real change. You get the brilliant combination of 50’s sensibilities but with an edge that shows that even then, women were not willing to be simply the victim. This is very clear in the way in which Liberty Callahan is developed as a character. Yes she is chasing fame and fortune, but there is a strength of character there and you know there is plenty more to discover about her, as if what we learn through. the course of the novel is not surprising enough. She is matched perfectly by some of the other strong female characters in this book, a theme which has been carried over from book one. They may not have full equality, but the women in these books are no shrinking violets and most definitely are not to be underestimated.
The pacing in this book is perfect and the narrative tight, using the back and forth exchanges between characters to drive the action on. This is not a fast paced, all action kind of a novel, although there are some very key scenes where the tension is high and the stakes even higher. More this is a story where being quick witted is as powerful as any weapon, and whilst violence is a part of the story, it is kept largely off the page, being used only as necessary to move the story onward. Afterall, this is a tale of a power play and politics in 1950’s America – it helps to keep it all feeling a little more authentic. Think of a kind of Chandler-esque/LA Confidential kind of vibe and you’ll be somewhere there.
Another brilliant addition to this series which has just made me like Archer even more. He may have a long way to go as a Junior Private Detective, but he’s sure made waves already and in a coastal town like Bay Town, it remains to be seen just how much disruption that might cause. Is it too soon to be enquiring about the next book, do you think, as I definitely cannot wait.
About the Author
David Baldacci is one of the world’s bestselling and favourite thriller writers. A former trial lawyer with a keen interest in world politics, he has specialist knowledge in the US political system and intelligence services, and his first book, Absolute Power, became an instant international bestseller, with the movie starring Clint Eastwood a major box office hit. He has since written more than forty bestsellers featuring most recently Amos Decker, Aloysius Archer, Atlee Pine and John Puller. David is also the co-founder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the US. Still a resident of his native Virginia, he invites you to visit him at DavidBaldacci.com and his foundation at WishYouWellFoundation.org.
David Baldacci will be appearing at First Monday Crime in April which, due to Easter, will be held on Monday 12th April at 19:30. Check out the First Monday Crime Facebook Page for more information. He’ll be joined by David Fennell (The Art of Death), Sarah Pearse (The Sanatorium) and Matt Wesolowski (Deity). The panel will be moderated by Dr Noir, Jacky Collins.