David McCallum of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS fame confidently embarks on a second career in his highly entertaining debut, a blend of espionage novel and thriller.
McCallum, 82, is no John le Carre, nor does his Once a Crooked Man hero, Harry Murphy, resemble George Smiley or Illya Kuryakin, the role that made the Scottish actor famous. But McCallum respects the genres’ tenets, supplying the right amount of intrigue, violence and sex for a well-plotted, action-packed tale.
Harry has had a decent career as a New York actor — a few TV and film spots, a couple of Broadway plays and lots of voice-over work for commercials. After an audition, Harry tries to use the restroom in a restaurant in Queens at the same time the three Bruschetti brothers are discussing how to get out of the organized crime business. While Harry relieves himself in the alley, he overhears the brothers plotting to murder someone named Villiers in London.
Flush with funds from a mayonnaise commercial, Harry impulsively flies to London where he manages to stop the murder. He’s also mistaken for a mob enforcer by the criminals and the British police, becoming part of “the reality show to end all reality shows.” But Harry has learned a lot of acting tricks that help him infiltrate the mob.
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Once a Crooked Man makes the most of the mistaken identity scenario, and McCallum populates his novel with the requisite characters: the sexy female agent who may have ulterior motives, the police detective whose sad-sack demeanor disguises his insight, the trigger-happy hit men. There are occasional bits of levity, but McCallum keeps a near hard-boiled edge to the story. He seems to have had a lot of fun with Once a Crooked Man and his readers will, too.
Promising new series
Unbridled power and relentless revenge converge in the tightly plotted The Short Drop, which launches a new series about former computer hacker Gibson Vaughn. Matthew FitzSimmons delivers an assured, action-packed debut that will appeal to fans of Lee Child, Gregg Hurwitz and Harlan Coben.
On the surface, Gibson appears to be the quintessential thriller hero — a tough as nails, former Marine who lives slightly off the grid. But FitzSimmons also imbues Gibson with emotional vulnerability that traces back to the disappearance of 14-year-old Suzanne Lombard, the daughter of a senator. Suzanne was like Gibson’s younger sister, and after Suzanne vanished, Gibson spiraled out of control.
A decade later, Gibson is recruited by George Abe, whose consulting group has found new evidence linked to Suzanne’s disappearance.
FitzSimmons keeps the action flowing and the suspense taut as he builds a complex but believable plot. Gibson’s computer and military skills are strong, but FitzSimmons is careful not to make him a superhero. His uneasy alliance with two of George’s investigators assigned — a former CIA officer and an ex-L.A. police detective — adds to the suspense. The multi-faceted Gibson has the makings to support a long series.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed these books for the Sun Sentinel and Associated Press.