This book marks Eoin Colfer’s move from children’s to adult fiction with the introduction of another serial character: Daniel McEvoy – ex Irish army sergeant, now working as a doorman in a sleasy New Jersey nightclub, worrying about losing his hair and trying to stay out of trouble.
McEvoy is an attractive character and his reflections on life and death, as he tries to extricate himself from increasingly complex and life-treatening situations, are very entertaining and often insightful. However in spite of the violence the book is more of a comedy than a thriller: except for a few scenes there is little sense of menace, and the wise-cracking, though generally entertaining, on a number of occasions simply does not ring true, disrupting any tension that had begun to accumulate. Hugh Laurie managed the combining of comedy and thriller better in his novel “The Gun Seller” in no small part by cutting the wise-cracks from the action scenes. (Paradoxically real life can produce unbelievable dialogue: George McDonald Fraser notes in his memoir of the war in Burma, “Quartered Safe Out Here”, that he once heard a comrade shout, after having been shot, “They got me the dirty rats!”, something, he says, that despite being true was so unbelieveable he would never have used it in a work of fiction.)
These points aside, the plot is compelling and satisfyingly twisty, drawing upon the roots of modern crime fiction: Dan carries with him an echo of Chandler’s Marlowe as a fundamentally honourable man, a contemporary knight errant, in a corrupt metropolis. The jokes are generally very good indeed. And many of the characters, particularly, I thought, Zeb and Simon, well drawn. It also highlights the courage and experiences of UN peace-keeping forces (Dan is a veteran of the operation in Lebanon), something rarely touched upon in popular culture, and something that deserves greater attention.
And the book kept me up at night so I could finish it and find out how the various strands resolve: one should never quibble too much about a book that can do that.