“A Gambling Man” by David Baldacci; Grand Central Publishing (448 pages, $29)

International best-selling author David Baldacci — best known for his hard-charging contemporary thrillers — takes a step back into the past with “A Gambling Man,” his second, hard-charging historical thriller featuring World War II veteran Aloysius Archer.

Set in 1949, the post WWII era is as much a character as the former soldiers who are trying to re-establish their lives as civilians. Many were haunted by their battle experiences, yet, because of the times, this was not discussed.

Archer — he almost forgets he has a first name — needs a fresh start. The war, which still affects many of his decisions, is behind him as is the time he served in prison for a crime of which he was innocent. He’s on his way to Bay Town, California, where he may be able to apprentice with Willie Dash, a private eye and former FBI agent— ”the potential of a new life.” But first he has to get there.

A detour to Reno ends with Archer — who is not a gambling man — winning about $4,000 (worth nearly $44,000 today) and acquiring a blood-red 1939 Delahaye convertible (you will want to Google this car, which has been called the most beautiful automobile). He also gains a traveling companion in showgirl Liberty Callahan, who wants to be an actress.

The trip to California is action packed with the plot heating up once the two friends land in Bay Town. Archer’s first case as a novice detective involves political corruption, drug addiction and myriad scandals — situations as relevant in 2021 as in 1949. Archer’s on-the-job education illustrates his talents as a sleuth.

“A Gambling Man” moves at a steady clip as Baldacci’s plot pays homage to private eye novels by Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald.

Archer is a well-drawn character, a man of his times who tries to overcome his past and embrace new attitudes. Liberty is no damsel in distress but is a strong woman who knows how to protect herself and isn’t fooled by any man, rising above cliches that may surround showgirls. While the two have a sexual tension, they are putting friendship first. For now.

A return to Archer and Liberty will be welcomed. Archer is a private detective for all times as Baldacci shows in “A Gambling Man.”

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