A Gambling Man (Aloysius Archer #2), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

There’s something about David Baldacci and his writing that has me intrigued whenever I grab for one of his books. Always keen to depict a wonderful piece of sleuthing, Baldacci has a knack for bringing a story to life. In this series, he’s added a throwback angle, setting things in the early 1950s, which gives the reader another aspect to enjoy a great deal. Aloysius Archer has seen a great deal, having served in the war and spent a little time behind bars. Now he’s headed west, where he may have a job, working as a private detective, waiting for him in California. After a stop in Reno, where trouble and a few interesting characters find him, Archer’s ready to head towards the bright lights. There, he’s pulled into a case of blackmail and murder, which is just how someone wants to cut their teeth in the sleuthing business. A great story that shows just how versatile Baldacci can be.

It has always been Aloysius Archer’s dream to solve cases, even if he has no notable experience. He’s made it through the war and tried to come out of it a changed man. A few dust-ups left him to serve time for a crime he did not commit, but that is behind him. Now, it’s California that’s calling and a potential job working as a private detective under a man who has quite the reputation. All Archer need do is make it there and prove his worth.

Along the way, Reno, Nevada calls. Archer is no gambling man, but he agrees to take in the sights, if only briefly. After learning the art of gambling and risk taking, Archer and a new companion prepare for a venture west, but are hampered when a local man meets up with some trouble of the gambling debt variety. Archer’s big heart and wily ways help rectify the situation.

With the bright lights of California on the horizon, Archer proceeds to a small town to present himself, in hopes of solid work and something to show for himself. He’s pulled in for a quasi-interview, which turns into being tossed in the middle of a case. There’s an election for mayor and one of the candidates is being blackmailed. Archer will have to prove that it’s all nonsense and that the philandering is a smear campaign. Asking some poignant questions, Archer begins to see how the town runs and who is pulling the strings.

However, when a woman turns up murdered, Archer cannot help but take notice and suspects it is to silence her. Politics has always been a dirty business and Archer’s come to see that this is no exception. Delving into the darkest of corners, Archer must not only find out who has been blackmailing the mayoral candidate, but also why murder seems the only way to keep players in the scheme from talking. When a few others turn up dead, Archer realises that this is a case that will require much of his time and intuitiveness,.. What a way to begin life in the gumshoe business!

Versatility is key for any author who wants to stay at the forefront of writing. Readers can be fickle, or at least demand some new angle to keep them coming back. David Baldacci has done just that and it seems to work. Setting the story back in the early 1950s and working some more primitive angles (no smartphones here, gasp!), the reader can see how things were done when sweat and intuition served to grease the wheels of detective work. It all comes together nicely and I cannot say it was anything but a success.

Aloysius Archer has a laidback approach to life that makes him the perfect protagonist for this piece. Wanting nothing more than to live and let live—so long as it does not impede his ability to enjoy things—Archer does what he can on a daily basis. He comes off as gritty, yet not overly temperamental, seeking truth over trying to make trouble for others. Should the series continue, I can see myself wanting to know a great deal more about the man and perhaps more of his past, as well as what the future has in store. It’s sure to be an interesting experience for any reader.

Baldacci presents a handful of interesting supporting characters, all of whom set the scene well and offer a flavour to the story that helps substantiate its 50s throwback. There is a lot of work that went into this piece, the characters doing their part to help the reader feel fully involved. While some folks do come off as somewhat stereotypical, the story needed them to offset some of the bold and brazenness that emerges throughout the narrative.

While I have never been one to flock towards dime store novels that depict detectives and women who beg to be protected, this piece worked well for me. Baldacci paints a wonderful picture of life in 1950s America and things come together with ease. A strong narrative keeps the reader wanting to know more, while the characters add a certain depth to things that made me feel as though I were part of the action. The dialogue and vernacular certainly took me back, where I expected everyone to be smoking and the men donning fedoras. It worked and shows the versatile nature of David Baldacci’s writing. It’s certainly worth the gamble of any reader wanting something a little different.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another winner. You have me intrigued with Aloysius Archer and I hope to see him again soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: