'Dream Town' review: Baldacci's novel gives us a taste of LA style Murder and mayhem

The characters are unabashedly black and white, the pace comfortably breathless and the quips dryly funny, while being occasionally insightful.

Published: 03rd July 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd July 2022 01:28 PM   |  A+A-

Author Baldacci (Photo | Twitter/ @davidbaldacciauthor)

Author Baldacci (Photo | Twitter/ @davidbaldacciauthor)

Express News Service

Set in Los Angeles in the early 1950s and revolving around Hollywood, the novel opens innocuously enough with Aloysius Archer ––a once-decorated soldier and currently a private detective, visiting his friend, rising Hollywood actress, Liberty Callahan. A chance meeting with Liberty’s friend and well-known screenwriter Eleanor Lamb on New Year’s Eve has the lady confessing to being scared for her life and hiring Archer as her private investigator right away. 

Just as an intrigued Archer is beginning with his investigations, his client vanishes into thin air. A visit to her empty house in the dead of the night has Archer tripping over a murdered man, being coshed on the head, and fading into a blackout. And after this vaguely unnerving state of affairs, the novel starts on a mad roller-coaster ride, dragging the mesmerised reader with it.

There is so much happening simultaneously that the mind boggles and one is taken on a guided trip through glitzy production houses, the luxurious mansions of Beverly Hills, deserted beaches, the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, the beaches of Malibu and the seedy, warren-like narcotic clubs of Chinatown, where we learn about pervert practices, hidden cameras, blackmail and are enlightened about the fermented drink baijiu served in thimble-sized glasses and potent enough to have the seasoned protagonist reeling after the first sip.

Baldacci writes with a frugal functionality that is a delight given the nature of the novel; there is no attempt at literary gymnastics mercifully, as it could have broken the nail-biting tempo. The characters are unabashedly black and white, the pace comfortably breathless and the quips dryly funny, while being occasionally insightful.

Aloysius Archer, the protagonist, speaks very little and allows other characters to define him. Consequently, we get a private detective who is tough, cool, intrepid, and wise-cracking, with an endearing streak of mushiness to him. Also, occasionally whimsical.

Terrific phrases like ‘granular identity’ pepper the text and the feel of the fifties are captured effectively. Once in a while, Archer’s soliloquy could sound a tad trendy but with the frequent mention of long-handled cigarettes, Nat King Cole, and stars like Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis, the author yanks the reader back to the retro feel of things.

There is undeniable predictability to some of the twists and turns in the plot but so exhilarating is this joy-ride through the landscape of crime, that all is forgiven at the speed of the moment. For those readers who thrive on action, emotion, and thrills, and like to wrap their heads around whodunits, whydunits and howdunits, this Hollywood-based novel is the ultimate destination.


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