Prolific mystery writer David Baldacci’s latest novel is “Dream Town,” the third in a series about World War II veteran turned private investigator Aloysius Archer. (That was probably the last time your heard of anyone being named Aloysius.)
Archer, who only answers to the name Archer for obvious reasons, takes advantage of the 1953 New Year holiday to pay a visit to his friend Liberty Callahan, who was a Reno showgirl when they met in a previous book but is now an aspiring actress in Hollywood. Instead of spending his whole visit heartily partying in a party town, Archer winds up being hired by a co-worker of Callahan, screen writer Eleanor Lamb, who fears she is being stalked.
When Lamb herself mysteriously disappears, another film industry associate hires Archer to try to find her. From there the cast of assorted and often unsavory characters grows as Archer delves into the dark secrets of glamorous moviedom as well as the weakness some of those characters have for the tables in mobbed-up Las Vegas and the consequences of the resulting indebtedness. Then there is the sleazy Jade Lion bar in Chinatown, where bad booze is served with a chaser of slutty behavior by ladies with familiar faces on the celluloid.
As Baldacci weaves his plot, many of those characters turn out to not be as they first appear. The beauty of the book is how Archer discovers and interprets clue after clue, leading to his unraveling of the underlying mystery in the end. It is a trip worth taking in the passenger seat of Archer’s 1939 French-made bloodred Delahaye convertible that Archer had purchased with a windfall of gambling winnings in Reno, proving the book is a work of fiction.
Baldacci also manages to get Archer into Jack Reacher-style fisticuffs. Here is an excerpt to give one a taste of the action:
He could hear shouts from all over now and knew his odds of escaping were slim to zero, and his final resting place might be in a hole in Chinatown, or the silty bottom of the Pacific. Neither one appealed to him.
The next second Archer ran headlong into someone and he felt the man’s fingers close around his throat. It was the struggle on the beach all over again. Although this time his opponent was the doorman. And his empty knife holder apparently hadn’t really been empty, because the curved blade was in his hand.
Archer didn’t waste a second because he didn’t have one to waste. He grabbed the knife hand and held it away from him. Next, he planted an elbow in the man’s face, breaking his nose. Then he kicked his foot out and bent the man’s knee the wrong way. The man went down screaming in pain, and then Archer laid him out with a crushing hook to the jaw. He had to keep thanking the Army for teaching him so thoroughly how to fight, win, and stay alive to fight again. As he kept running he looked down at his hand: It was wet.
The guy’s knife hadn’t entirely missed. Archer had a two-inch-long gash in his left palm. He took out his handkerchief, wound it around his hand, and kept running.
Though Archer is good in a physical fight, it is the cerebral wrestling that clinches the story.