Eoin McNamee (www.eoincolfer.com)
Irish crime fiction is going through a golden era at the minute. Look at the wealth of crime fiction coming out of Ireland – both North and South – over the past handful of years, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more buoyant market anywhere else. From south of the border you’ll find names like John Connolly, Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes. From the North, a newer breed of writer free, now, to write straight crime fiction in which the Troubles, if they make an appearance at all, take a back seat to solid plots and good storytelling. Names like Colin Bateman, Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway.
Eoin Colfer (as the tagline on Colfer’s own website says, “It’s pronounced Owen!”, in case you were in any doubt) is famous for his series of books about Artemis Fowl (I’ll come clean at the start and admit to not having read any of the Fowl books), and for writing the latest Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy instalment. Now, though, he turns his attention to crime – at some urging from the aforementioned Bruen, according to the book’s dedication – in the form of Plugged.
Daniel McEvoy is ex-Irish Army, ex-UN Peacekeeper, living in New Jersey after two tours in the Lebanon. Nowadays he works as a doorman in a seedy rundown casino in the small town of Cloisters, a town that survives simply because its casinos are closer to the Big Apple than are those of Atlantic City. Dan is tough, smart and bald – the latter a fact of which he is not particularly proud, hence the hair plugs which give the book its title. Within a handful of hours, Daniel has murdered the local Irish gangster’s right-hand man, misplaced his friend (but not, unfortunately, his voice, which takes up residence in his subconscious and keeps a steady stream of babble going throughout) and seen the murdered body of Connie, a hostess at the casino who was something of a friend with benefits. From there, the story moves at a frenetic pace, twisting and turning towards the surprising climax, all related from the first-person point of view in that unmistakable Irish voice.
From the first page, Colfer’s prose is enough to hook the reader. It doesn’t hurt that he opens on an ‘ass-licking incident’ at Slotz, the casino where McEvoy works, setting the scene – and the tone – for the rest of the novel. McEvoy’s voice is pure Ireland: that perfect balance between wise-guy and maudlin doomsayer. The story – by turns dark and hilarious – fits the voice well and pushes McEvoy to breaking point on several occasions, showing just what the man is capable of. Flashbacks are kept to a minimum, but they are included, mainly around the first meeting of Daniel and the doctor, Zeb, who is more salesman than doctor, and not particularly effective at either. The rest of the cast are as interesting and quirky as these two: Tommy Fletcher, who served with McEvoy in the Lebanon, a man from the heart of Belfast with an “accent to make the hardest hard man long for a mother’s bosom to nuzzle”; Irish Mike Madden, the big fish in a small pond who runs anything illegal in Cloisters; Jaryd Faber, the pointy/sweary lawyer who first runs afoul of Daniel after licking Connie’s derriere in the casino. And so many more that make this book an absolute pleasure to read.
Colfer has produced the perfect rollicking mystery. In tone, it’s probably closest to Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter novels or Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest, and I would recommend it to fans of both. There is comedy gold here – and Irish readers in particular will find more than their fair share of inside jokes – but the book is also plenty dark, and you’re never quite sure what’s waiting around the next corner.
It strikes me as a brave move for a man famous for his young adult fiction to branch out in a direction that is completely inappropriate for his usual audience, but with Plugged that move has paid off for Eoin Colfer. We should thank Ken Bruen for whatever part he played in the genesis of this novel. Plugged deserves a place with the best of modern Irish crime fiction and I, for one, hope we’ll hear more from Colfer in this genre before too long.