Luck of the Irish
The grit and grime of organized crime
Review by Adam Fox
The Overlook Press
It's ugly, filthy, rough around the edges and heart-stoppingly vile. Like a red-haired Rodney Dangerfield, mob life hailing from the Emerald Isle never seems to get any respect. Compared to its Italian-American counterpart, the cars aren't as sleek, the killings aren't as poetic and there's definitely no Frank Sinatra crooning through the speakers of a quaint, candlelit ristorante.
Instead of a warning shot involving a severed horse head, the Irish-American mob would probably just sever your head and save the questions for later. It's not pretty, but they get the job done.
At least that’s how Irish author Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl) portrays it. Plugged introduces us to Daniel McEvoy, an Irish immigrant living in the relatively calm community of Cloisters, N.J. Enlisted in the Irish military years ago, Daniel attempts to live a more “typical” life as the doorman of Slotz, an ultra-seedy strip club / casino. (Picture the atmosphere of “Dogs Playing Poker,” but with pole-dancing poodles.) A balding man with an intimidating stature, Daniel's insecurities bubble to the surface in his new set of hair plugs.
He goes to visit his old friend (and hair plug administrator) Zeb Kronski for a follow-up visit. Kronski’s a pill-pushing doctor with a shady practice where “if you stand in one place long enough someone's going to offer you whatever you need.” But the good doctor is nowhere to be found and Daniel is attacked by Macey Barrett, known as “The Crab” for the way his feet shuffle before he strikes. A product of advanced military training, Daniel reacts and kills Macey, who turns out to be the go-to guy of crime boss Irish Mike Madden. This sets off a chain of events, beginning with Daniel returning to a completely stripped and demolished apartment. He doesn't know if this act of retribution is related to Irish Mike or the self-aggrandizing attorney Daniel had to kick out of Slotz the previous night for licking the butt of one of its cocktail waitresses.
From this, a corrupt cop and a murder lead to a multilayered shoot-’em-up of epic proportions. Daniel finds himself involuntarily knee-deep in the exacted revenge, wicked hierarchies and unpaid debts of organized crime.
The plot is familiar enough if you're accustomed to noir, but where Colfer excels is in his carefully constructed characters. There are a multitude of them throughout the 254 pages of Plugged, and each has their own discernible, violent flair. Think Coen brothers, where the colorful and unpredictable characters become the most memorable and noteworthy elements of the story. “The doctor looks a little like the Bee Gee who married Lulu, if he had just run into a sheet of plate glass,” Colfer writes. And Daniel’s landlady is adorned in “shoulder pads you could launch a jet from.”
Daniel is strong, fearsome and calculating, but he’s also a head case who suffers from severe bouts of paranoia—regularly oiling his fire escape, stuffing $50,000 down his apartment's sink drain and getting those hair plugs in an attempt to veil his age. He even hears the disembodied voice of the presumed-dead Kronski as the metaphorical angel on his shoulder—or devil, depending on your perspective—throughout the novel. These revelations present an intriguing gray area, where the bad and good guys are only a split-second’s decision away from trading places.
Plugged is uncompromisingly gory but uproariously funny. Like a Tarantino film, darkness is rendered entertaining and palatable through an absurd style. The obscure situations Daniel finds himself in provide for an irresistible read. You want to live vicariously through him—unfazed, untouched, an action movie archetype but with enough visible flaws to make him grounded.
“God and guns, that's what we put our faith in here,” Daniel says. This tidy quote could be the mantra of Frank Costello in The Departed and the MacManus twins in The Boondock Saints. There's a certain level of unfettered grit in Irish culture that complements the dark city streets and little-known underground of this novel so well. The glamorous veneer of the mob is stripped in exchange for back-alley, no-bullshit sensibilities. Even in the clamor of kicking ass and taking O-apostrophized names, Daniel still shows how he yearns for home. “I need a pint of Guinness that's taken five minutes to pour, and a date with a freckled redhead,” he says. As long as it’s not my body being riddled by bullets, save me a spot at the bar.
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This month's selection is He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
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