DEATH ON THE CARDS
Review: Anjana Basu
A Gambling Man
Pan Macmillan | INR 650
Gals, guns, gambling and fast cars – there’s more than a taste of Chinatown to this David Baldacci thriller. He returns to the territory he trod in One Good Deed with Aloysius Archer once trainee lawyer and now would be gumshoe fresh out of jail revisiting the post World War II years. Even his language changes as Baldacci evokes the world of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet in this tribute to the American crime great.
Archer refuses to be known by anything except his surname and with good reason since his first name is a saintly mouthful. He packs a set of knuckle dusters in his pocket apart from a gun which comes in useful at a halt in Reno, Despite vowing not to have anything to do with women after his stint in the Poca City jail previously, he encounters the long legged showgirl Liberty Callahan. Having found a fast woman – whom he studiously keeps at arm’s length – he acquires a fast car, a red Delahaye convertible which kick-starts the adventure and the body count, even though the first few bodies aren’t related to the later ones. Callahan is a dab hand with a gun apart from knowing her way around numbers like Old Black Magic and holding the auditorium of a sleazy entertainment joint called Midnight Moods spellbound.
The Chinatown element comes in when Archer interns with old pro shamus Willie Dash in Bay Town on the Pacific coast. Dash’s first client Kemper is being blackmailed over an alleged affair with a showgirl. Douglas Kemper is running for mayor and his wife Beth is the daughter of the town magnate who may or may not be involved in the whole thing. One by one the bodies pile up and it isn’t difficult to realise that all the murders are linked in one way or another or who is behind it all. What does not ring true is Archer’s sudden leap into the sack with the efficient, intelligent and deadly Wilma Darling having spied on her sex with a man who is murdered very soon afterwards.
The atmosphere of small town America on the heels of the war that Baldacci paints is probably the most effective part of the book with its starry eyed inhabitant chasing Hollywood dreams and corrupt men out to make a quick buck. Sawyer brings in the right note of evil, would-be incest and pushes the right buttons while Archer tries to figure out who is behind it all, fueled by slugs of bourbon from a hip flask as the best gumshoes are in American thrillers. Quite obviously there is more of Archer to come and perhaps Dash and Callahan too.