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A Gambling Man


A Gambling Man

Set at the start of the 1950s, A GAMBLING MAN continues the adventures of Aloysius Archer, who we met last year in ONE GOOD DEED. He simply goes by “Archer,” and even though he is a mild-mannered and likable young man, he has a penchant for finding trouble wherever he goes.

At the beginning of this latest novel, Archer is headed to California, where he will be working for Willie Dash, a private detective. In my review of ONE GOOD DEED, I mentioned that David Baldacci’s homage to classic crime noir made me think of Ross Macdonald and his iconic character, PI Lew Archer. This Archer is now on his way to becoming a gumshoe, which is the height of irony. His bus takes an overnight stop in Reno, which is where he will find trouble.

"A GAMBLING MAN is delicious crime noir with fascinating historical data thrown in to keep the story interesting. I absolutely loved the opportunity to step back in time to this era with David Baldacci as my guide."

Archer is approached by an elderly man calling himself Bobby H, who makes him an offer to work as his bodyguard for the evening. He respectfully turns him down and makes his way to his tiny hotel room. Being a night owl and having trouble sleeping ever since the war, Archer can’t stay in for the night and decides to take a walk around Reno and see the local sights. He lands at the Dancing Birds Café and luckily finds himself sitting at the same table as the owner. Mr. Shyner makes sure that Archer watches his best showgirl, Liberty Callahan, and insists that he stop by the casino.

It is at the casino where Archer meets up with Liberty, and the two have some luck at the craps table and roulette wheel. When Archer decides to share his hefty winnings with Liberty, he now has a friend for life and perhaps something more. They head out to another place where they find someone being worked over by a team of goons. Archer gets involved and ends up saving Bobby H, who confesses that he has large gambling debts. They work out a deal where Archer will give Bobby H his winnings in exchange for his beautiful French car. Archer can now skip the bus and travel to California with his new companion, who wants to make it in the movies.

While taking a rest break the next day, they are accosted by the same individuals who killed Bobby H. Thankfully, they shoot their way out of this jam and try to keep a low profile the rest of the way. They arrive in Bay Town, California, the next day. Archer heads to Dash’s office, while Liberty gets hired at the only showplace in town and is a big hit.

Archer can learn a lot from Dash, a former FBI agent who once worked with Eliot Ness. Of course, it takes just one day for Archer to find himself in the middle of a juicy assignment that turns into a deadly game. It seems that the town is run by a wealthy man, Sawyer Armstrong, whose son-in-law, Douglas Kemper, happens to be running for town mayor. Kemper and his associate, Wilson Sheen, come to Dash for help with a blackmailer whose identity they claim not to know. It may be Ruby, the young dancer at the same club where Liberty now works, or his opponent in the mayoral race. Even Kemper’s wife, Beth, is not above suspicion as she has been aware of his dalliances.

After Dash goes to sleep following a day’s work, Archer hits the town and ends up pursuing the case on his own. This will include getting roughed up by some of Armstrong’s men, who are not happy about his daughter being questioned by PIs. He even has a 3am rendezvous with Beth at the only all-night diner in town and learns more about where the famous Armstrong and Kemper wealth came from.

The body count starts and will continue to rise in an unexpected and chilling manner. Archer and Dash are great together, but they may be in way over their heads when they begin scratching at a plot that will put Bay Town on the map for unfortunate reasons.

A GAMBLING MAN is delicious crime noir with fascinating historical data thrown in to keep the story interesting. I absolutely loved the opportunity to step back in time to this era with David Baldacci as my guide. Archer is one of today’s standout fictional characters, and you are missing out if you don’t jump into this terrific series at the beginning. The dialogue is priceless: “We’re all young, Archer, right up to the minute we’re just a picture on the wall for someone to remember.” Wonderful quips such as this are practically on every page, and I cannot wait to dive into the next Archer adventure.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 23, 2021

A Gambling Man
by David Baldacci