Name: David McCallum
Title of Book: Once a Crooked Man
'...a spellbinding thriller that has tension, momentum and certainly an actor’s skewed eye of the world. '
The Bruschetti brothers have always kept a low profile about their criminal empire. The less people know about them, the better they can operate their numerous criminal schemes. No one branch of their empire is cognisant of another – and it is a method that has worked very well for them for many years. After a health scare, Max decides it is time to step back and retire. He and his two brothers have enough money to keep them happy for the remainder of their lives. They just have to be clever winding down the business – and tie off a few loose ends.
Actor Harry Murphy desperately needs to use the services. After being unceremoniously thrown out of the restaurant, he uses the alleyway beside the building only to overhear the Bruschetti’s plan of action. With a few random words caught through an open window, Murphy jets to Britain to give the heads up to someone called Colonel Villiers. After a shootout, the Colonel, believing Murphy is in the employ of the Bruschetti’s, hands over a case filled with cash. It isn’t long after that Murphy is well in over his head with the British and American authorities after him, as well as the Bruschetti’s. Harry will need all his actor’s skills to keep him from becoming another statistic who disappears into thin air.
With short, sharp chapters ‘Once a Crooked Man’ is very filmic and reads as though it is already hot-footing itself to a TV or cinema screen near you! And that is no surprise given McCallum’s deep roots in the world of TV where an audience needs to be immediately captivated and there is no time for navel gazing. McCallum appears to have taken this mantra to heart as there is literally no time to catch your breath when you read ‘Once a Crooked Man’. From the beginning of his debut, McCallum dives straight in and introduces us to the Bruschetti’s and the way they do business. Carter Allinson is a man on the way up and wants out from his side-line of selling drugs on behalf of the Bruschetti’s – but they are having none of it. Instead, Allinson is forced in to a corner and under duress, becomes their finance guy. There is obviously no retiring for Carter, and much could be said the same for the Bruschetti’s who find it just as difficult to disentangle themselves from the monster business they have cultivated over the years, which lends a touch of irony to the proceedings to come.
Using an actor as his main protagonist was a stroke of genius for McCallum – I guess it corroborates that old saying of writing what you know. I imagine that many a ‘resting’ actor has to turn to different trades within the industry just to get work and keep their hand in. This is used to marvellous effect with Harry and highlights his resourcefulness. ‘Once a Crooked Man’ doesn’t merely have chapters, but scenes, giving it a sense of a script that canters along like a racehorse. What I particularly found commendable is the way McCallum gives a sense of momentum, especially as I neared the end, of the way the Bruschetti’s, despite their power, were losing their grip on the whole situation. I won’t give away the ending, but McCallum doesn’t go out with all guns blazing, which would have been too predictable. ‘Once a Crooked Man’ is a spellbinding thriller that has tension, momentum and certainly an actor’s skewed eye of the world. A very strong debut.
Reviewed by: C.S.