Thursday, 28 July 2016

Eoin Colfer's Plugged and Screwed

Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books  were favourites of my son James and extremely entertaining, carefully iconoclastic young teenager fiction which led Jimbo straight on to The Great Carl Hiassen. Thence to Hemingway, McCarthy, all kinds of ‘proper’ literature and now a flourishing career as an author of wildly successful tomes on how to make bread, cakes and beer. Fortunately, having seen where writing and showbiz get you, he has a proper job as well.

Anyway it’s at least partly Eoin Colfer’s fault, who - while remaining a top bairns’ writer, and currently being Laureate nan Og (Ireland’s children’s laureate)has come up with a brilliant plan to maintain contact with his demographic as it ages. Many of his once-young readers are now adults, sort of, with an implanted need for the same kind of witty brutality as found in Fowl, easy-reading crime fiction though now with the violence, coy sex, super-sweariness and arch media references young men with tattoos’n’tweed expect in their light reading matter. Post-Hiassen stuff, in fact, Jack Reacher  with a sense of humour. Kind of Tony Soprano  - they’re set in New Jersey - with less angst. Oh, and McEvoy’s Irish. “If you loved Artemis Fowl” goes the publisher’s tagline on one edition’s cover, “it’s time to grow up.”

So we have Daniel McEvoy, former Irish army sergeant, suffering PTSD from his time as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon (but hey, often to hilarious effect) and now (in Plugged) a doorman in the small NJ town of Cloisters. The follow-up, Screwed, sees Daniel as owner of a sleazy casino and drinking den called Slotz. Presumably the third book will be called Fucked, though his publishers may have words to say on the subject.

Both Plugged and Screwed (Screwed more so, as Colfer was evidently in the Adult Orientated Raunch groove by the time he wrote it) are effortlessly brilliant romps, seamlessly plotted, frenetically paced and full of characters you recognise from TV shows, films and other books. Notably, McEvoy is like a cartoon version of Adrian McKinty’s early Michael Forsythe character.

It’s broad brush stuff, but very funny, full of outlandish Hiassenesque scenes (especially echoing Striptease) and with a host of deadpan one/two liners (“there isn’t a naked person on this planet who isn’t scared of hot pasta”...”they say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I would argue that a scorned woman would pale and back out of the room when faced with a Rottweiler who just got his scrotum twisted…”)

McEvoy has psychological and hair transplant problems, plus a shrink (from The Sopranos) and a Jewish doctor pal (out of Hiassen and MASH). He’s very good at killing but queasy about the actual act. He has a lot of sex but is loath to go into details. Hey, kids might be reading. And there’s a complicated family background involving his mother’s millionaire dad (shades of Benjamin Black/John Banville’s Quirke).

Colfer is very good in Jersey and NYC psychogeography and breakfast at Norma’s in the Park Meridien is definitely on the cards for me should I ever visit the city again. The occasional lapses into maudlin self-examination are forgivable. Just.

I read Screwed first, which I definitely do NOT advise, as some of the characters only make proper sense if you first meet them in Plugged. Which I didn’t. These are fast, snacky reads, full of fun, guns and violence, very cleverly constructed and snappily written. Worth a penny plus postage on Amazon in my book. Liam Neeson in the movies, surely? Perhaps too much hair.

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