Skip to main content

One Good Deed


One Good Deed

To call David Baldacci a prolific writer would be a gross understatement. He has published over 40 novels for adults (several of which have been adapted for film and television) and seven for younger readers. All of his characters are complex and richly drawn out, and they make great chess pieces in the literary games in which he places them. Baldacci is one of the finest plotters in the business.

ONE GOOD DEED is a stand-alone novel, and Baldacci's protagonist is far from conventional. Aloysius Archer has just left prison. He steps onto a bus with no destination in mind and rides it all the way to Poca City. The year is 1949, and Archer has departed Carderock Prison following an early release for good behavior. A proud veteran of World War II, he was locked up for a crime he did not commit. Now, a few years later, he is once again a free man and sporting the long hair he decided to let grow out during his incarceration. If there are any goals or self-made promises of revenge on his mind, we are not privy to that when we are introduced to him.

A few years shy of his 30th birthday, Archer is single and has no living immediate family. Baldacci chooses not to offer many details about the time he spent in prison other than to say that he was wrongly convicted. Archer makes the perfect antihero and is immediately a character readers can get behind. Little does he know the trials and tribulations Baldacci and his masterful plotting have in store for him. Let's just say that his street smarts and army experience will not fully prepare him for what is to come.

"Baldacci has crafted an ingenious and addicting read in which each paragraph provides a new revelation. The time period and writing style immediately called to mind the works of the immortal James M. Cain..."

Upon his entrance into Poca City, a town with which he is completely unfamiliar, Archer decides to spend the last bits of change he has left for a drink at a bar called The Cat's Meow. It is here that his presence draws the interest of a well-to-do stranger, Hank Pittleman, who strikes up a conversation with him that ends with a sort of job offer. Archer cannot help but notice the dazzling young lady on Hank's arm, who we soon learn is Jackie Tuttle. It turns out that Hank may be the richest person in the county and could use the assistance of a somewhat intimidating ex-con/army veteran.

The task involves collecting on a debt that belongs to Jackie's father, Lucas, an extremely wealthy ranch owner. Lucas, though, has fallen on hard times due to a drought that has crippled his farm, and he borrowed $5,000 from Hank. Hank wants Archer to reclaim a Cadillac that is on Lucas' property as a message that he will take it as collateral towards the remainder of his debt. It's no surprise that Lucas may be waiting for just such an attempt, and he is a man to be reckoned with --- as well as being pretty handy with his shotgun.

When Archer gets to Lucas' ranch, he decides to meet with the man directly and straight up tell him why he is there and who sent him. With that trusty shotgun aimed directly at Archer's crotch, Lucas kindly advises him to return to his “new employer” and let him know that he will not be getting the car or anything else during this visit. Additionally, Lucas asks Archer if he would help him out by rescuing his daughter from the married and untrustworthy Hank. As the Cadillac is nowhere to be found, Archer returns empty-handed. It's pretty obvious that this will not sit well with Hank, and the games have only just begun.

As a recent parolee, Archer must report regularly to his local parole officer, who ends up being an attractive yet stern young woman, Miss Crabtree (and yes, I did chuckle at the Little Rascals reference!). He tells her that he is employed by Hank, and that is enough to satisfy her, as long as the employment is continuous. One night a few days later, Archer is walking in the area of The Cat's Meow and sees Jackie struggling with an obviously inebriated Hank. Archer helps Jackie get him into an open room at the Derby Hotel where he can sleep things off. Coincidently, it's only a few doors down from Archer's room. Archer and Jackie have a drink and end up in bed together.

The next morning, Archer wakes up to an empty bed and wonders where Jackie ran off to. He heads down to the room where they left Hank and is shocked to find him dead on the floor with his throat cut in an aggressive and murderous act. Jackie turns up, and they both believe that her father is behind the slaying. They have no choice but to report the crime to the hotel and the police, which brings Lieutenant Detective Irving Shaw into the picture. Of course, things immediately point to Archer and Jackie, but Archer is quite bright and is able to talk himself out of incarceration, while Shaw looks into Lucas and other possible suspects.

All I can say is that the relationship between Archer and Shaw, though starting out on a slippery slope, ends up being an outstanding matchup of characters in this complex novel and includes some of the best scenes and dialogue Baldacci has ever written.

Archer has to find new employment and takes a job in a slaughterhouse that was owned by Hank. He is there to work, as well as to keep his eyes open. The rest of his spare time is spent in the presence of Shaw, who brings him along as he meets with everyone from Hank’s widow to Lucas. It is quite obvious that something far deeper is at play, and things will go around in circles several times finding Archer both in and out of suspicion.

Baldacci has crafted an ingenious and addicting read in which each paragraph provides a new revelation. The time period and writing style immediately called to mind the works of the immortal James M. Cain, with clear influence from such classics as THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. ONE GOOD DEED wraps up with an unexpected courtroom showdown that is as good as anything John Grisham has ever written. As much as I love Aloysius Archer, I hope that Baldacci keeps this a stand-alone. He has so many other series to work with, and I don't think it's possible to write another Archer novel better than this terrific slice of crime noir.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 26, 2019

One Good Deed
by David Baldacci