In the same year, Colfer made his first foray into adult crime fiction, contributing ‘Taking on P.J.’ to DUBLIN NOIR (2006), a collection of short stories edited by Ken Bruen.
Colfer’s first adult crime novel, PLUGGED, concerns itself with Dan McEvoy, an ex-Irish Army sergeant who is a veteran of peacekeeping tours of the Lebanon. Now living in voluntary exile in Cloisters, New Jersey, McEvoy’s life as a casino bouncer is shattered when his on-off girlfriend Connie is murdered in the parking lot on the same day his best friend Zeb, a cosmetic surgeon, goes missing from his surgery. Forced to kill in self-defence when confronted with a knife-wielding gangster, McEvoy taps into his soldier’s survival instincts as he races to stay one step ahead of a posse composed of corrupt cops, a vengeful Irish-American mobster boss, and a megalomaniac lawyer with homicidal tendencies.
Colfer dedicates the novel to Ken Bruen, and PLUGGED is in part an homage to the author credited with a radical reimagining of the role of the first-person protagonist in the contemporary crime novel. Colfer goes so far as to adopt some of Bruen’s narrative strategies, including an anarchic and frequently implausible plot, surreal flights of fancy, and a story that blends frenetic action sequences with an internal monologue that regularly digresses into the realms of the absurd.
The result is a gloriously ramshackle comedy crime caper; as a narrative vehicle, the story is a getaway car careering downhill and losing wheels at every corner. Colfer, however, is too experienced a storyteller to get carried away himself. The propulsive chaos masks a palpable appreciation of the crime novel itself, not simply in terms of his playful subversion of the genre’s tropes, but also in Colfer’s willingness to warp the parameters of what is essentially a conservative narrative form. Successfully blending the sub-genres of comedy crime caper and hard-boiled noir is no mean feat, as those who have read Donald Westlake’s pale imitators will confirm, and Colfer’s exuberance in this respect will delight the connoisseurs jaded by crime novels which insist on adhering to an established and predictable norm.
Colfer isn’t the first Irish crime writer to incorporate comedy, of course. Ruth Dudley Edwards, Garbhan Downey and Colin Bateman are among those who sugar the pill for appreciative readers, and PLUGGED has more than its fair share of gags, puns, prat falls and punchlines. Colfer works from a particularly dark palette throughout, such as when he parodies the genre’s penchant for the verbose antagonist:
“Thank God for grandstanding killers. Back home my squad were once brought in to hunt for an IRA kidnap squad who had crossed the border. We only caught them because they delayed a scheduled execution so they could film it from a couple of angles. Everyone wants their moment.” (pg 82-83)The county of Sligo, incidentally, previously lampooned in AND ANOTHER THING … (2010), Colfer’s contribution to the Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy series, takes another lick here when Colfer sidesteps a sexist joke “that there is no place for in the modern world, except perhaps in County Sligo, where they love a good mysognism.”
Humour aside, and given that the novel unfolds as a first-person narrative, the story stands or falls on Colfer’s ability to convince us that Dan McEvoy is a man worth following. Here Colfer has an unerring instinct for the genre’s most conventional hero, the good man doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. McEvoy ticks all the boxes in this respect, yet he is sufficiently deranged, and simultaneously conscious of his foibles, to make him a character worth the reader’s investment of time and emotion.
Scabrously funny, furiously paced and distinctively idiosyncratic, PLUGGED ultimately comes to a belated reconciliation with the genre’s conventions, but only after a titanic and entertaining struggle that suggests Colfer’s first adult crime novel will not be his last. - Declan Burke
This review first appeared in the Irish Times.
Meanwhile, Eoin Colfer had a chat with Barry Forshaw over at Crime Time, where he explains his reasons for writing PLUGGED, with the gist running thusly:
“PLUGGED is a slice of modern noir fiction where I have tried to genre-bend a little by introducing a Walter Mitty internal monologue and large sections of black comic humour. What I am trying to achieve is a sense of ‘pleasant surprise’ in the reader where they get a little more than they had expected. So perhaps the reader expects a straightforward ‘gorgeous dame walks into a PI’s office’ yarn and they get something slightly more frenetic. Of course, what you don’t want to do is give the reader an unpleasant surprise where they really wanted the dame/P.I. yarn and you have ruined their day - so the humour is built around a standard noir skeleton where a guy’s girlfriend is murdered and the finger is pointed at him because of his past.”For the rest, clickety-click here …