Fresh Blood

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.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) One of your main characters in your debut is an actor called Harry Murphy. Why did you choose this particular vocation for him?
It is said you write what you know. As an actor it was only natural that I choose an actor to be my protagonist.
2) On the flight over to the UK, Harry gives his fellow passenger a very elaborate (and imaginary) story about his job. I wondered if this was the sort of thing some actors have done even if not on the stage or on set?
To succeed as an actor you have to have a vivid imagination. As Harry is a bit of a romantic, he cannot resist the temptation to make his trip to England a bit more elaborate than it really is. As he will never see Marisa again, he sees no harm in what he tells her.
3) The three Bruschetti brothers run a very shady empire with the help of Carter Allinson who helps with the finance side - albeit under pressure from the mobsters. Did you have to do your homework with regards to the relocation of funds across the world and offshore accounts?
I did a good deal of research into every aspect needed for ‘Once a Crooked Man’. This included the world of finance and in particular the way money is handled illegally. The DEA was also very helpful.
4) You have starred in NCIS as Dr. Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard and have been known to appear at Medical Examiner conventions. Is knowing the job of the role you are playing important for research purposes and having an ‘insight’ in to your character? Did you use this approach with your writing?
Thirteen years ago when I began to play the part of Dr. Donald Mallard, I spent a considerable amount of time downtown at the Coroner’s office. As I read and learned more and more about pathology, making copious notes, the visits became less and less. Now we only call when we have a specific problem.
5) You are an actor with a long and distinguished career. What made you change direction and turn your hand to writing? Was it a completely different discipline to being an actor?
I have never thought about changing careers. Writing ‘Once a Crooked Man’ was an exercise in learning how to put pen to paper. This exercise began several years before Don Bellisario created NCIS. But I soon found that the disciplines of acting and writing are similar. Both require dedication and concentration.
6) Have you been bitten by the writing bug and are you already on to your next novel?
My new world of publishing expects another book. I now know the pleasure of completed pages. As soon as I can sit down at my computer in relative peace and quiet the task will begin. It has already started in my mind.
7) I am sure you have been asked many times about your role in ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, so I won’t ask about it. However, I am from the generation who hit behind the sofa during ‘Sapphire and Steel’. Despite not being a long-running series, are you surprised that it has gained such a cult following?
Both ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ and ‘Sapphire and Steel’ are highlights in my career and I look back on them with great affection. As the latter deals with the occult and supernatural I am not surprised it has reached cult status.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, what are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and you would wish to have on a deserted island?
When I was a child back in the ‘30s and ‘40s my father was a member of the Detection Club. On our living room shelves were rows of books, most of which were detective stories. I read them all. And then of course there was Sherlock Holmes...