Aloysius Archer has good cause to remember his parents for most things. Their decency, their love and their determination to do the best for him, certainly. For his Christian name, not so much. He finds that most folk can’t even pronounce it properly, so he is happiest with just Archer. This has not been a problem for the last few years, as residents of the State Penitentiary were not too precious about names. Put inside for a crime he didn’t commit, Archer has served his time, survived, and is out on parole. It is 1949, and he is on a bus heading for Poca City, a metropolis in name only. In reality, it is a parched and fly-blown settlement with a few bars, a handful of stores and diners – and a Probation Office.
rcher served his country with distinction in the war, fighting his way up the spine of Italy, watching his buddies die hard, and wondering about the ‘just cause’ that has trained him to shoot, throttle, stab and maim fellow human beings while, at the same time, preventing him from being at the deathbeds of both parents.
Wearing a cheap suit, regarded as trash by the local people, and with every cause to feel bitter, Archer checks into the Derby Hotel and contemplates the future. His immediate task is to check in with his Probation Officer, Ernestine Crabtree. Quietly impressed by her demeanour – and her physical charm – Archer goes, in spite of his parole restrictions, for a drink in a local bar, The Cat’s Meow
Propping up the bar is a middle-aged roué with a much younger woman on his arm. Hank Pittleman is clearly a big man in Poca City, and he offers Archer what appears to be a simple job – reclaim a fancy car that was held as collateral for a defaulted loan. The Cadillac is currently in the possession of Lucas Tuttle, another local man of property, but a man who seems to have fallen on hard times.
Archer accepts the job, takes an advance on the fee, and sets off on what seems to be a relatively straightforward mission. Truth be told, the Cadillac belongs to Pittleman and Tuttle has it. Archer is tough, capable of extreme violence, so what could be possibly go wrong? As Oscar Wilde wrote:
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
ven before Lucas Tuttle answers the door to Archer’s knock by pointing a cocked Remington shotgun at his unwelcome visitor, Archer has learned that the floozie on Pittleman’s arm in the bar is none other than Jackie, Tuttle’s estranged daughter. Archer finds the coveted motor car hidden away on Tuttle’s ranch, but it has been deliberately torched. Cursing his involvement in this blood feud, Archer’s equilibrium and freedom both take a severe knock when Pittleman’s body is found in a bedroom just along the floor from Archer’s room in The Derby. Thrown into the cells as the obvious suspect, Archer is released when he meets up with Irving Shaw – a serious and competent detective – and convinces him of his innocence.
Pretty much left on his own to solve the case after a violent attempt to silence Jackie, Archer has to summon up very ounce of his military experience and his innate common sense to put himself beyond the reach of the hangman’s noose.
mplausible as it may sound, given the body count – stabbings, shootings, people devoured by hogs – One Good Deed is a wonderfully warm and feel-good kind of novel. Archer is a simple man; brave, thoughtful, compassionate, 99% honest and a convincing blend of frailty and decency. Baldacci (right) is such a skilled storyteller that the pages spin by, and anyone who loves a crime novel where goodness prevails would be mad to miss this. Mr B also gives us a rather unusual romance – for 1949, at least. One Good Deed is published by Macmillan and is available in all formats on 25th July.