I bring you a novel by a best-selling author you all know. I read one of his books recently, and I thought I tried another one. I think I enjoyed this one a little bit more, even though it is the third in a series, but it can be read as a standalone.
DREAM TOWN (ALOYSIUS ARCHER SERIES BOOK 3) by David Baldacci
Private Investigator and WWII veteran, Aloysius Archer, returns to solve a new case in Hollywood in this riveting thriller from international number 1 bestselling author, David Baldacci.
All that glitters . . .
1952, Los Angeles. It is New Year’s Eve and PI Aloysius Archer is dining with his friend and rising Hollywood actress Liberty Callahan when they’re approached by Eleanor Lamb, a screenwriter who would like to hire him, as she suspects someone is trying to kill her.
Murder and mystery
A visit to Lamb’s Malibu residence leaves Archer knocked unconscious after he stumbles over a dead body in the hallway; and Lamb seems to have vanished. With the police now involved in the case, a close friend and colleague of Lamb’s employs Archer to find out what’s happened to the screenwriter.
The City of Angels – or somewhere much, much darker?
Archer’s investigation takes him from the rich, glamorous and glitzy LA to the seedy, dark side of the city, and onward to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, just now hitting its stride as a hot spot for celebrities and a money-making machine for the mob. In a place where cops and crooks work hand in hand, Archer will cross paths with Hollywood stars, politicians and notorious criminals. He’ll almost die several times, and he’ll discover bodies and secrets from the canyons and beaches of Malibu and the luxurious mansions of Bel Air and Beverly Hills to the narcotics clubs of Chinatown.
With the help of Liberty and his PI partner Willie Dash, Archer will risk everything and leave no stone unturned in finding the missing Eleanor Lamb, and in bringing to justice killers who would love nothing better than to plant Archer six feet under.
About the author:
David Baldacci has been writing since childhood, when his mother gave him a lined notebook in which to write down his stories. (Much later, when David thanked her for being the spark that ignited his writing career, she revealed that she’d given him the notebook to keep him quiet, “because every mom needs a break now and then.”)
David published his first novel, ABSOLUTE POWER, in 1996. A feature film followed, with Clint Eastwood as its director and star. In total, David has published 44 novels for adults; all have been national and international bestsellers and several have been adapted for film and television. His novels have been translated into over 45 languages and sold in more than 80 countries, with 150 million copies sold worldwide. David has also published seven novels for younger readers.
David is also the cofounder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the United States.
I thank NetGalley and Pan Macmillan for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I read Baldacci’s Zero Day a while back, and I said that I was likely to try another one of his books at some point, and after seeing this novel featured and commented upon in several places, I decided to read it. A detective novel set in the early 1950s in Los Angeles promised to be interesting. And I can confirm that Dream Town delivers. In summary, this is a solidly plotted and well-written novel, with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings, providing beautifully observed historical nuggets of the place, the era, and especially of 1950s Hollywood, with a likeable and morally strong hero, and a varied cast of interesting secondary characters. Although with plenty of touches of noir, it reminded me more of the detective novels of the 1930s, and I tend to agree with a review that mentioned Philip Marlowe, down to the clever retorts and especially the moments of insight and reflection Archer, the P.I. protagonist, shares.
I won’t discuss the author in detail, as he is too well-known for that. Much of what I wrote in my previous review of one of his novels applies to this one as well. I didn’t realise when I requested this novel that it was, in fact, the third novel in a series about Archer, but I can confirm that it is not necessary to have read the previous two to enjoy this one. I am sure readers who have will be more clued to the nuances of Archer’s relationship with his partner, Willie Dash, and with his female friend, Liberty Callahan, although it is true that this book seems to represent something of a crisis point for Archer, I won’t say too much about that, to avoid spoilers. I mentioned above having checked some reviews, and it seems that there isn’t agreement on how this novel compares to the rest of the series. Some readers think this is the strongest of the three, while others enjoyed the first two more, but it seems this relates to the setting, to the ending, and, as always, it is a matter of personal choice more than any specific flaw of the novel itself.
This is a novel with many subplots and plenty of characters, and it is difficult to describe what happens beyond the blurb provided above, not only to avoid spoilers but also because of the many strands Baldacci weaves into this spiderweb of a story. The subplots cover many themes we would expect of novels set in that period, particularly in L.A.: Hollywood, the film industry, and how it worked; the Cold War; contraband, drugs, and a variety of other crimes; police corruption (it made me think of a non-fiction book set in Compton a few decades later that I reviewed recently); Las Vegas, gambling debts and the mafia; gender and power relations in the era (a single woman could not get a mortgage without the signature of a man, it seems, no matter how solid her financial situation); the nuclear era and the fear of the bomb; property speculation; the fate of WWII veterans, and many more. Not all of them are developed in detail, but they are well-integrated into the story and give the novel plenty of backbone.
The story is told in the third person from Archer’s point of view, and he is an acute and detailed observer. I had mentioned in my previous review that some readers might find the descriptions (of rooms, places, people, even gestures and facial expressions) a bit too much, but I am sure fans won’t mind, and most of those paragraphs were original and vivid, managing to create a clear (and sometimes humorous) image in one’s mind. There is plenty of action and adventures; Archer moves about a fair bit and gets a beating or two as well. This is not a protagonist-hero as superman, who never puts a foot wrong, and in fact, he is lucky to get off unscathed (or with only a few bruises) considering the situations he ends up in. Thankfully, some people have his back, and although this is a novel full of deceitful characters, betrayals, and two-timing scoundrels, there are also upstanding friends and associates of Archer, and that makes it quite different from some of the noir novels of the period, as those P.I.s tend to be less than exemplary and morally ambiguous, while Archer is… well, a bit of a Boy-Scout, and an honest man. I liked Archer’s friends as well, particularly Willie, his ersatz father, and Jake, a man who’d paid a heavy price for going after the bad guys, but I was also impressed by the number of female characters included in the novel. There are men as well, of course, and one of the baddies (perhaps the most typical one) is a man, but most of the important characters are female, and they are not only important to the development of the mystery itself, but they all have their own lives and professions, and that makes them quite remarkable for the period. They are not all good or bad either, but that is to be expected, and I enjoyed that aspect of the novel in particular.
This book takes its time to build up the story and the characters, and in that, it has more in common with classics of the genre than with some of the frantic page-turning thrillers we are more used to reading these days. I did not mind at all, as I enjoyed the writing style, the background, and the detours Archer took us on, and I think it helped with the mystery as well, as most readers will have time to come up with their own hypothesis as to what is going on, but there are so many strands to the story that most people will find one or two surprises along the way. Did I like the ending? Yes, I did. I have mentioned that this book seems to represent a crisis point, or rather, a big change for Archer and his career, and I felt that worked well, although I understand why some people might have hoped for a more conventional all-around “happy” ending.
Readers can always check a sample to see if the writing style suits their taste, but I decided to share a few random quotes, to give you a bit of a taster.
Here a character is talking to Archer about a movie project and a particular director:
No way in hell Bette Davis is letting Danny direct her. It would be like Lassie directing Brando, and that’s an insult, actually, to the dog.
One of the women I mentioned says this:
No one ever assumes the wives in this town have anything to do other than dress nicely, stay skinny, not dribble what little food we do eat down our fronts, and never, ever drink as much as our husbands, at least in public.
Archer always liked to approach a problem from the rear. He had learned in the war that frontal assaults made generals look heroic, but made their soldiers simply dead.
I recommend this novel to people who enjoy historical detective novels set in the 1950s, particularly in L.A., especially if they are fond of the classics of the genre, to fans of Baldacci, and to those who enjoy complex mysteries with strong characters and a descriptive and engaging writing style.
Thanks to NetGally, Pan Macmillan, and the author for this enjoyable novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling and encouraging others to read!