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Irish novelist Eoin (pronounced 'Owen') Colfer (pronounced 'Colfer') is probably best known for writing the hugely successful 'Artemis Fowl' series of books. They're fantasy books aimed at young adults but read by many grown-ups in the same way that the 'Harry Potter' series was. The success of the 'Artemis Fowl' novels can be gauged by the fact that the massive Walt Disney Company have just announced that they plan to turn them into a series of films.
Colfer moved on from the 'Fowl' books and it's a sign of his talent that he was invited to write the final 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' novel by Douglas Adams' widow. Sadly, 'And Another Thing...' is, frankly, awful although to be fair Adams had written himself into so many corners by then that the once-great series was probably beyond saving.
But now Colfer's back working on his own material and this 2011 novel, 'Plugged', takes his readers in a very different direction to his previous work. As the front cover blurb states, "If you liked Artemis Fowl... it's time to grow up.' And 'Plugged is most definitely a novel for grown-ups.
So what's it about? It's about 280 pages and it's about Daniel McEvoy, an Irish ex-soldier who is working as a bouncer in a small town in New Jersey. He's working in a run-down, seedy casino and he knows that he's wasting his life. Worst of all. he's going bald. He doesn't know how to solve most of life's problems but at least he can cure his baldness by getting hair implants (which explains why, according to the novel's title, he is 'Plugged'). His problems get much worse when the closest thing that he has to a girlfriend is murdered, one of the cops assigned to the case end up dead and the other can't decide whether to arrest him or sleep with him, the local gang lord decides that McEvoy needs to be taken down... and worst of all his hair-transplant surgeon goes missing.
It's a crazy, fast-paced thriller filled with black comedy and fantastic, almost-believable characters who you'd hate to meet but suspect may actually exist. The twisted fun that made the 'Artemis Fowl' books so enjoyable is still here but with much more adult themes at the heart of the story. Violent deaths, post-traumatic stress, casual sex, hard drugs and even harder language, loneliness, bereavement, mental health issues and a character who is so stupid that he... "couldn't find his dick with a dick-o-scope". All of these things are somewhere around the edge of what's acceptable to make fun of. Colfer dances on that line as deftly as any tightrope walker, making the reader laugh out loud then check to see that nobody heard them. And behind the laughter is a brilliantly eccentric plot that carries you along at break-neck speed into a series of twists so unexpected that your eyebrows will feel like they're on a trampoline.
It's an undiscovered gem of a novel and I'm delighted to learn that the sequel - 'Screwed' - is now available.
Excuse me, I'm off to the bookshop.