In which I review a fun thriller from NCIS‘ Ducky and two forgettable entries from Sir Ian Fleming and Sasha Grey.
Once a Crooked Man by David McCallum
As Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the long-running CBS procedural NCIS, David McCallum is no stranger to spinning a yarn. It shows in his debut novel Once a Crooked Man, which for all its faults is an entertaining read.
Above all else, it’s clear McCallum had fun writing this book. Because of that, one can’t help but have fun reading it — even on the occasion where characters act strangely or it dawns on the reader that this book isn’t quite what was expected going in.
The prose is occasionally dry and awkward, but the story never lulls. This is a fast read, with short chapters that ensure you’re never stuck in one place for too long. Once a Crooked Man does stub its toe on occasion, but the flubs are few and — a moment of dubious sexual consent late in the narrative aside — there’s nothing too terribly glaring.
The premise is far-fetched — a struggling actor overhearing a mafia plot and taking it upon himself to alert one of the targets — but let’s face it: sometimes, the flimsy, yeah-right premises make for the most fun reads.
Once a Crooked Man isn’t a book with a ton of substance; there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the proverbial bone. But it is a fast-paced, entertaining read — and there are certainly worse ways to spend almost 350 pages.
Casino Royale by Sir Ian Fleming
I confess: before discovering the TV show Castle, I never knew James Bond originated as a book character. All I knew of him was the never-ending series of movies with an equally endless series of actors playing the world-famous secret agent.
So I pick up Casino Royale and instantly find that Book!Bond is not much like Movie!Bond. Naturally, there are differences between printed page and moving screen, but the difference in character here is so stark that I spent the opening chapters of the novel trying to get my bearings.
Also, it’s important to bear in mind when this book was written — both because of prose and dialogue that is, at times, stilted and needlessly wordy and because of attitudes toward women that are grossly sexist that even the various Movie!Bonds would duck their heads in shame.
There are a share of solid passages in this novel, but Ian Fleming’s maiden voyage for 007 is too inconsistent to truly be a fantastic read, or anything resembling the character I’ve seen on the silver screen for practically my entire life. This was a good book, but not a great one — and I can’t help but wonder if my opinion in that regard is colored by the fact that, to me, Bond has always been a movie character.
Fictional novelist Richard Castle said Casino Royale was the book that made him want to become a writer. I can’t help but wonder… was it because the book inspired his budding creative nature, or because he knew he could do better?
The Juliette Society by Sasha Grey
I’m still trying to make heads or tails out of what I read here.
Full disclosure: I bought this book simply because of who the author is and my curiosity got the better of me. But in a way, already being familiar with the author (and, more importantly, being familiar with her previous career) affected my ability to be immersed in this book; I was never able to separate Catherine the protagonist from Sasha Grey the porn star. Every sex scene, I imagined Sasha, not Catherine.
And there is plenty of sex in this book, perhaps more than you might expect. It’s written well enough, but it feels a bit paint-by-numbers and if erotica is your thing, there are far better, far spicier options out there.
As for the plot itself… this book might be called The Juliette Society, but the Juliette Society itself doesn’t feature heavily. Most of this book feels like a coming-of-age story for Catherine. Much of it feels like a romance novel (though I have to be honest, much of Jack’s behavior makes no sense). It’s not until the very end that we’re fed something resembling exposition regarding the Juliette Society, and then the book ends and I was left with a definite feeling of “…that’s it?”
The most frustrating thing is, there’s potential here. There are ways in which The Juliette Society could’ve been a fantastic, engrossing read. The blurb hints at just that, but the book itself never quite delivers.