Today’s Mystery Monday novel is the first in a new series by author David Baldacci, the Aloysius Archer series: One Good Deed. The story is set in the late 40s, post WWII, and Aloysius has just been paroled from Carderock Prison early and has to spend the next three years in Poca City (a 7 hr bus ride west of the prison) reporting to his parole officer, Earnestine Crabtree. All he has to his name is the suit, tie, shoes, and hat he wore into prison and his parole papers with a long list of dos and don’ts and the few bills he’d been given on his way out the door. On arrival, he checked in to the Derby Hotel in Poca and before he went to bed, he’d already broken rule #14: no bars or drinks.
Archer has been given a raw deal. He left college to go to war, came home to wander, picking up odd jobs and seeing his country. He got fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Early parole for good behaviour has enabled him to come out with a really positive attitude and a determination to do well and never see prison again. Although he breaks rules when he thinks he can get away with it and if it’s important to him, before he meets with Crabtree the next morning, he’s been hired to collect a debt for the largest business owner in the town, Hank Pittleman, and been given a $40. advance. He’s met Hank’s mistress (she likes to call herself his chattel rather than mistress), Jackie Tuttle, and it’s her father he’s to collect a 1947 Cadillac from. He’s also met another parolee, a dangerous, psychotic man named Dill who is working at the slaughterhouse owned by Pittleman and Archer wants to avoid him at all costs.
Archer is at first unsuccessful at collecting the debt or Cadillac from Tuttle, is hit on by Jackie, and when Hank then turns up dead in a room down the hall from Archer’s, he becomes the prime suspect. After the state detective, Lieutenant Shaw starts asking questions, he eventually decides that Archer isn’t really a suspect, and the two form a loose alliance to try to solve Hank’s murder. Then, when Pittleman’s warehouse manager turns up dead, an attack is made on Jackie, her father is found dead, and Shaw ends up in hospital, Archer is put on trial for his life.
This is a kind of slow moving story that reveals Archer’s character and philosophy of life carefully as he interacts with his various contacts in the small town of Poca. Those honest citizens who really get to know him learn to respect and like him, as did I. The plot meanders around to the degree that you’re unsure, along with Archer, as to just who can be trusted. Shaw encourages Archer in the ways of detecting and tells him he should become a ‘shamus’, that he has good instincts. Ernestine, who has gone out of her way to help him, disappears in the middle of the night along with her clothes and her typewriter. There are lots of twists and surprises as Archer decides to investigate on his own and defend himself in the trial. This was a differently paced book than I’m used to with Baldacci but quite enjoyable and well executed. I’m assuming that in the next novel in the series, Archer will be embarking on this new career path. * * * * *
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