One Good Deed by David Baldacci

One Good Deed by David Baldacci
Publisher: Pan Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

It’s 1949. When war veteran Aloysius Archer is released from Carderock Prison, he is sent to Poca City on parole with a short list of do’s and a much longer list of don’ts: do report regularly to his parole officer, don’t go to bars, certainly don’t drink alcohol, do get a job — and don’t ever associate with loose women.

The small town quickly proves more complicated and dangerous than Archer’s years serving in the war or his time in jail. Within a single night, his search for gainful employment — and a stiff drink — leads him to a local bar, where he is hired for what seems like a simple job: to collect a debt owed to a powerful local businessman, Hank Pittleman.

Soon Archer discovers that recovering the debt won’t be so easy. The indebted man has a furious grudge against Hank and refuses to pay; Hank’s clever mistress has her own designs on Archer; and both Hank and Archer’s stern parole officer, Miss Crabtree, are keeping a sharp eye on him.

When a murder takes place right under Archer’s nose, police suspicions rise against the ex-convict, and Archer realizes that the crime could send him right back to prison . . . if he doesn’t use every skill in his arsenal to track down the real killer.

It’s 1949 and Aloysius Archer has just been released from jail. The war is still fresh in everyone’s mind and day-to-day life and Archer arrives in a small southern town looking for a fresh start and some honest work. When a local businessman is brutally murdered the newly arrived Archer is the number one suspect. Can Archer work out what’s really going on before he’s sent back to jail, again?

I’m usually not a fan of “recent” historical novels – but I am a big fan of Baldacci’s and so was curious enough to give this book a try. I’m very glad I did, as I found it to be an excellently written murder mystery book. Despite being set about 70 years ago the characters and motives and even much of the social landscape is still incredibly relatable and intriguing. There were a few times when I paused to really think about whether some of the plot points were a bit too modern- like when Jackie admitted she’d discussed her affair with Hank’s wife and the general understanding they’d both come to from that conversation. While I found myself dubious about just how realistic that was – particularly 70 years ago – I equally realise women have been making compromises like this and facing the reality of how life really works for centuries. While it felt a little bit of a stretch to me, I could also see how it wasn’t as outrageous as I initially thought.

So, while much of the story is definitely set and has a strong feel of the past – particularly in the small-town society and how the war had affected things like rations and clothing and the like – it didn’t feel so steeped in history that I couldn’t relate to a number of aspects to the plot. Indeed, much of the small-town motives and jealousies and revenge – that all struck me as modern and true today as it would have back in 1949. I enjoyed exploring those sorts of thoughts and links and this book did an exceptional job for that. I also have to strongly recommend Baldacci having done what I assume was a fair bit of homework. A number of things, from the fashions and finances to how parole and the law functioned back in those days all seemed to be very well researched and presented to me.

Readers looking for a different style of murder mystery should find this book appealing. While a lot of the groundwork is laid in the first third or so of the story – and the pace of that might be a bit slow for readers expecting something a bit more action orientated – I really feel this book is worth sticking with. This is also the first in a series so readers should definitely feel it’s a good place to start. I enjoyed how the characters begin to weave together very convincingly and I came to really think Archer’s character has a certain something that I really enjoyed. He was an interesting mixture of strong and vulnerable that wasn’t simple or easy to unpack and I found myself as curious about him as a character as I was with the whole murder plotline itself.

A different and very interesting book, I will absolutely be picking up the next in the series. Recommended.

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