The enemies of 43-year-old McEvoy, who runs a two-bit casino in New Jersey, include the mafia, a couple of bent cops, and, surely a first in the annals of noir fiction, his step-grandmother.
Colfer excels at weaving the most elaborate roller-coaster rides. From the moment we meet McEvoy in the apartment of Sofia Delano, the beautiful, bipolar gal with a strange hold over him, trouble waits around every corner.
First up is the Irish American mob boss, Mike Madden, who wears a picture of his dead mother framed in lace on his lapel. McEvoy is in his crosshairs because he threatened to kill his mom a year earlier. To get off the hook, he makes McEvoy deliver a package to a rival gang of hoodlums.
Things go awry from there. Among the catalogue of calamities to befall him: a car he’s held hostage in goes off a bridge, a dildo is Exhibit A in a torture scene. But, of course, he dusts himself down and keeps keeping on.
There are stock traits to crime fiction heroes, but McEvoy subverts many of them. Although he’s a tough guy, made of “volcanic material”, he has an unusual penchant, for example, for deconstructing pop culture in his head. There aren’t many mass-murdering protagonists in the genre who think the drumming of fingers on a wheel might resemble the beat of George Michael’s “Faith”.
“There are parameters (to crime fiction) but you don’t have to stick to them,” says Colfer. “I don’t. It would be very difficult for me to write a novel where I had to follow a certain rule. The classic set-up for a noir novel is the private eye, who’s a bit of a drinker, his wife’s left him, and a beautiful dame shows up at his office one day. That’s pretty accepted. A lot of guys stick to that.
“I’ve always liked to surprise people who come to the book and think they’re getting a straightforward noir book. I like to shake that up and make it a little bit funnier than usual maybe. Also, my books are very anarchic. There’s not really a sense of Daniel following clues until he finds the murderer. It’s not like that. Life happens to him. He doesn’t do anything except try and stay alive. I like that idea of chaos and confusion that he’s in for the whole book.
“The one thing I wanted with his character was to have one who watched TV and went to the movies because generally that side of people’s lives is not really represented. A hero can’t spend time watching TV, he has to be out in a bar drinking whiskey. A lot of my references are very much pop culture references.
I make him interested in certain television shows, certain bits of music, certain books, and he references them constantly. That thread would represent my own interest in pop culture.”
One of the more interesting characters in Screwed, who sits on the wings of the action, is McEvoy’s psychoanalyst. He plays the foil for one of the novel’s many wry, crafted exchanges: “My shrink, Simon Moriarty, once told me I was obsessed with vengeance, to which I replied: ‘Obsessed with vengeance? Who told you that? I’ll kill him.”
Not many mind doctors crop up in Irish fiction. “A fear of therapy is very much a fear of failure,” says Colfer. “One of the greatest stigmas in Ireland is not having a physical wound it’s having a mental one. Nobody wants to say that they have to go to a therapist because we think it means you’re insane whereas if you go to a therapist in America, it’s fine. Everyone goes to a therapist. Even in a show like The Sopranos, a mob boss goes into therapy. There is that difference in Ireland and America that still, here in Ireland, even though we’re encouraged to go to therapy, to go to one is an admission of failure, which is terrible because some people could really use it.”
Colfer is from Co Wexford, possibly the country’s most prodigious corner for churning out successful fiction writers. He cites Irish peers Ken Bruen and Colin Bateman as well as the hardboiled Jim Thompson as crime fiction influences.
Colfer carved a corner of fame with his Artemis Fowl children’s literature series. He has a finely-tuned radar for the nuances of human behaviour. In Screwed, notes McEvoy, drunks all have the same personality: a blend of cunning and pathetic. People give a little truth to sell a lie, while, on the flip side, it’s nice when people invent your excuses for you. McEvoy, however, teeters on the brink of paranoia by over-analysing people’s physical tics when they communicate.
“Some people are very natural at reading body language,” says Colfer. “Then other people, like myself, would tend to put interpretations on things: ‘Oh, he’s moving his toe. What’s he doing there?’
“The character Daniel is like this where he gets into all the different interpretations of every gesture and that would happen from having an alcoholic father: you’re always trying to see what people want, what makes them happiest, especially if they’re prone to violence.
“I do that as well even though I don’t have anyone abusive in my family; maybe because as a writer you want to please people. My first memory of doing that would have been in secondary school. I wrote a few plays for school and I remember being behind the set, looking out through a hole and watching the audience and trying to decipher whether they liked the show or not.
“You can really waste a lot of your mind space trying to make other people happy or interpreting whether or not they are happy or if you interpret they’re not happy and you try something else to make them happy. I’ve learned over the years that is not a very healthy way to live your life.”