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by Eoin Colfer
Headline, May 2011
320 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0755379985

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Eoin Colfer has joked that he was encouraged to write his first grown-up novel by his publishers, who were desperate to take a risk and move away from the safely resounding success of his Artemis Fowl children's series. Whoever encouraged him, this is a terrific debut. With a hugely likeable hero and a cast of characters that can't be second-guessed, PLUGGED has pace, wit and warmth.

Daniel, an Irish ex-army sergeant, is working as a doorman at a casino in New Jersey when one of the waitresses is murdered. Dan was fond of the dead girl and her death shakes up his dull existence, as does the disappearance of his friend and doctor, Zeb Kronski, leaving Dan with half a head of recent hair transplants. To make matters worse, Dan starts hearing Zeb's voice in his head: complaining, imploring or simply insulting. With this psychic sidekick in tow, Dan sets about trying to solve the murder, find his friend and stay on the right side of the law, in the form of ball-breaking female cop, Ronnie Deacon.

Narrated in the present tense and packed with jokes from the opening page, PLUGGED could easily have boiled dry by the end of the first act, but for Colfer's skilful hand on the tiller. Just as you begin to suspect he can't possibly sustain the humour at the same time as making us care what happens next, he peels another layer from his hero's tough-guy shell, or serves up another original character to keep us gripped.

Present tense is a problem for plenty of readers, and for some writers too. PLUGGED is a great example of how it can work, partly because Dan's a hero with a troubled past, a shedload of repressed trauma and a somewhat ropey hold on reality. As he struggles to keep up with his fast-changing fortunes, the present tense flexes just enough to allow his past to come through at significant moments. Memories of his two tours in Lebanon, and the counselling that followed his request for a third tour of duty, are peppered through the early sections of the book, enough for us to know that Dan is a damaged man albeit one with significant stealth training (which will come in handy as the story unfolds). His moral compass, however, is bang on. He wants to do the right thing, but fate (and 'Irish Mike' Madden) keeps getting in the way.

This is a genuinely enjoyable read, replete with twists and turns, sassy dialogue, a smidgen of romance and some full frontal nudity. Colfer deals his cards like a pro, only once or twice failing to convince, such as in a complex action sequence that required re-reading to be sure of exactly what took place during the banter-ish narrative from Dan. This is the exception, however, and noticeable only because Colfer's mastery is so marked elsewhere.

In the promised series that follows, here's hoping Colfer gives Dan more time with Ronnie Deacon, the female cop who can't decide if she likes or loathes our hero. Their exchanges, including an interlude locked in a freezer, were some of the best moments in this memorable book.

Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, July 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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