‘Dream Town’ review: Baldacci’s novel gives us a taste of LA-style murder and mayhem – The New Indian Express
Express press service
Set in Los Angeles in the early 1950s and revolving around Hollywood, the novel opens innocently enough with Aloysius Archer – a once-decorated soldier and now a private detective, visiting his friend, the rising Hollywood actress, Liberty Callahan. A chance encounter with Liberty’s friend and well-known screenwriter Eleanor Lamb on New Year’s Eve led the lady to confess to fear for her life and immediately hire Archer as a private detective.
As an intrigued Archer begins his investigations, his client vanishes into thin air. A visit to his empty house in the middle of the night causes Archer to trip over a murdered man, get hit over the head, and pass out in a blackout. And after this vaguely unnerving state of affairs, the novel begins a crazy roller coaster ride, taking the hypnotized reader with it.
So much is happening simultaneously that the mind is breathtaking and one is taken on a guided journey through the glitzy production houses, the luxurious mansions of Beverly Hills, the deserted beaches, the gambling mecca of Las Vegas , the beaches of Malibu and the seedy, Warren-like narcotics clubs of Chinatown, where we learn about the perverse practices, hidden cameras, blackmail and are enlightened about the fermented drink baijiu served in glasses the size of a thimble and potent enough to make the seasoned protagonist shudder after the first sip.
Baldacci writes with a frugal functionality that is a delight given the nature of the novel; fortunately there is no attempt at literary gymnastics, because it could have broken the biting tempo. The characters are unapologetically black and white, the pacing comfortably breathless and the banter dryly funny, yet insightful at times.
Aloysius Archer, the protagonist, speaks very little and lets other characters define him. As a result, we get a private detective who’s tough, cool, fearless, and wise, with an endearing touch of sweetness to him. Also, sometimes whimsical.
Terrific phrases like “granular identity” spice up the text and the 50s feel is effectively captured. Occasionally, Archer’s soliloquy might seem a bit fashionable, but with frequent mention of long-necked cigarettes, Nat King Cole, and stars like Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis, the author takes the reader back to the retro feel of things.
Some of the plot twists are undeniably predictable, but this ride through the crime landscape is so exhilarating that all is forgiven at the speed of the moment. For readers who like action, emotion and thrills, and who like to focus on thrillers, the whys and hows, this Hollywood-based novel is the ultimate destination.