Book Review: “Once A Crooked Man” by David McCallum

Once A Crooked Man by David McCallum

David McCallum—who remains forever “Illya Kuryakin” for anyone my age—has written his first novel. Not bad for an old guy.

No doubt based on autobiography, the protagonist is an actor with an adventurous streak. Of course, there is a considerable strain of wish fulfillment, as the actor in question is absurdly competent at a lot of things, as well as rather braver than the average person. Kind of loony, if you ask me.

If the protagonist is goofy, the bad guys are an absurd combination of vicious, violent, criminal and nice family men (and women). The cops and other characters are equally odd. Noone seems to be anywhere near “normal”, whatever that means.

The plot makes no sense at all. A fluky encounter in New York City leads the actor to drop everything and fly to London, with the intention of intervening in what he thinks is a murder plot. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a really bad idea, and gets him into deep trouble.

The writing is pretty good, especially the dialog. He succeeds in keeping us interested in the people, even if the plot and motivations are preposterous.

Much of the action is slapstick, and there is a considerable amount of violence. Fortunately, the violence isn’t graphically described, but I still didn’t enjoy the heavy casualties.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a message or lesson intended. By the end of the mess, some of the bad guys are overthrown, some flourish, and some seem to turn legit. Some of the good guys flourish shadily, and, frankly, no one really looks very moral by the end. Kind of like show business, maybe, and maybe that’s where DM is coming from. I dunno.

This is an easy read, and entertaining as long as you don’t try to make it make any sense.


  1. David McCallum, Once A Crooked Man, New York, Minotaur Books, 2015.


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