By Marty Mulrooney
Plugged marks a major departure in both subject matter and tone for author Eoin Colfer. Known mostly for his bestselling Artemis Fowl series of children’s books, here Colfer turns his gaze towards a strictly adult audience. Plugged is the story of Daniel McEvoy (Dan to his friends), an Irishman in New Jersey who works as a bouncer at a seedy strip club. When one of the club’s hostesses is murdered, a bizarre chain of events is set into motion that sees Dan stepping outside the law into a world of crime, deception, violence… and black-market hair transplant ops.
Plugged is a crime debut that, whilst dealing with some very dark subject matters, is also laced with a healthy dose of black comedy. Of course, the word “plugged” has been interwoven into pop-culture lexicon by shows such as The Sopranos (also set in New Jersey) where it simply means to shoot or ‘whack’ somebody. Here, it has a double-edged meaning. Just as Connie the waitress is ‘plugged’ early on in the story, Dan McEvoy has also been ‘plugged’… with hair extensions. Facing the onset of male pattern baldness, he has recently turned to his dodgy doctor friend Zeb Kronski – who he first encountered in Lebanon “sticking a large needle of reddish gunk into another man’s dick” – for discount hair plugs.
Making matters worse, Zeb has now gone missing. In fact, he is probably dead. Could his disappearance be linked to Connie’s death? Dan hits the streets, and he hits them hard. Before long, his army training kicks in whilst investigating Zeb’s surgery and a would-be attacker ends up with a key sticking out of his neck as he bleeds to death on the carpet. Dan is in deep and he needs to think fast. Unfortunately, a lot of his thinking these days actually sounds like his old pal Zeb, kindly standing in for his subconscious. His observation that the situation is “a total donkey’s cock” sounds about right, at least.
It’s true what they say about Irish people: we have a great love for the maudlin. For every silver lining there’s a cloud. Maybe that’s why I get on with Zeb so well. It has to be said that the two of us love a good moan, although Zebulon’s beyond moaning now.
Don’t count on it, you Mick arsehole.
Except in my head, apparently.
The humour in Plugged is consistently strong throughout. There was seldom a page where I didn’t chuckle to myself or laugh out loud. Dan’s interactions with people are hilarious, precisely because he is such a self-aware character. At first, he merely seems like a reasonably tough guy trying to sound tougher than he really is. As it turns out, he is so tough any Hollywood-esque quips he comes up with probably wouldn’t be able to do him justice anyway… but it’s great reading him try. Dan’s old shrink Dr Simon Moriarty is still contactable by phone throughout too, offering some of the funniest conversations of the book… Dan certainly has issues.
The supporting characters are also all well-defined and engaging. Female cop Ronelle Deacon can’t seem to make up her mind whether to arrest Dan or help him figure out who killed Connie and kidnapped Zeb. Likewise, Irish Mike Madden (“one guy trying to upgrade from hood to boss”, not really Irish either) seems unsure whether to kill Dan or employ him. One particularly memorable scene sees Dan collecting a package from a drug den with the creative use of a freshly testicle-squeezed, very angry Rottweiler.
I reach past Irish Mike’s spasming torso and flick the seat levers on the front seats. Shifting my weight forward, I slam the seats till their hinges pop, pinning Irish Mike’s men to the dash. One still has an arm free to reach for his gun, so I dislocate the shoulder’s ball-and-point socket joint with a punch in the armpit.
I was never going to be able to fully encompass all of the crazy situations and elements of Plugged in a single review, but hopefully I have managed to give an overall flavour of the novel with minimal spoilers. This is an action packed, hilariously dark thriller with plenty of mystery to spare. Dan McEvoy could certainly support multiple sequels if Eoin Colfer decides to pen them: as a protagonist, he is reminiscent of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher… on crack. A phenomenal page-turner of a book that offers one of 2011’s best reads so far.
10 OUT OF 10