Matt Forney
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Mad Outta Me Head: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia by Colin Post

How the hell is Christopher Kavanagh still alive?

Mad Outta Me Head, the latest book from Expat Chronicles Colin Post, would border on being unbelievable if it wasn’t so well-researched. A biography of Christopher Kavanaugh (aka “the Mick”), a close friend of Colin’s who figured prominently in his articles, it follows Kavanaugh’s life from his beginnings as a juvenile delinquent to his life deep in the criminal underworlds of Colombia and his native Ireland. It’s exhaustive, engaging and one hell of a ride.

But how is this guy not dead?

From beginning to end, Kavanaugh goes through so many near-death experiences that it’s a wonder he survived long enough to tell his story. He reminds me of Mark Zolo, if Zolo was a petty criminal who couldn’t keep away from the China white. If you’re looking for a smartly researched and enthralling tale of drug abuse and adventure, Mad Outta Me Head is a must-buy.

Mad Outta Me Head is written in a somewhat detached style, akin to Peter Robb’s book A Death in Brazil. The book follows Kavanaugh’s life, starting with his youth in sixties/seventies-era Ireland, a time of violence and poverty. Virtually every page of the book hits you with some kind of “What the FUCK?” moment, even the chapters where Kavanaugh is a little boy:

I didn’t know what I was feelin’ but he’d be down there suckin’ my little prick, and tellin’ me to piss on him. I didn’t know the sexual implications. I didn’t know what was goin’ on. I was goin’ down there to be punished and here he is, genuflectin’ in front of me. Where the whole Catholic Church and the whole fuckin’ Catholic Ireland was tellin’ me I had to genuflect in front of him, and he’d be doin’ the reverse to me.

Mad Outta Me Head is largely written from a third-person point of view, albeit with frequent quotes from news articles (many of which are about Kavanaugh’s exploits), encyclopedia entries, and Kavanaugh’s own words. Colin’s dispassionate, journalistic tone might seem like it would suck the life out of the story, but he approaches his subject matter with the right amount of detachment and involvement: I devoured the book at top speed.

Of course, Kavanaugh’s antics were the number one reason I kept reading.

It’s almost like this guy has no concept that he is mortal and that his life might end. Throughout the book, he does everything from stealing a bus and crashing it, to muling drugs between Ireland and Colombia, to getting in scrapes with prison toughs and somehow makes it out alive every time. He gets addicted to heroin, kicks it, becomes an alcoholic, kicks that, and ekes out a living in Bogota during the period in which it was one of the most dangerous cities in the world:

Christopher and Caspetero ran at him from opposite sides. Niche could not put up much resistance before taking stabbings from both of his attackers. Christopher says blood flew in all directions as they pounded away with their knives on Niche’s chest, stomach , arms, and shoulders. Christopher stabbed and stabbed, but Niche’s jackets were preventing the knives from penetrating too deep. So he and Caspetero kept stabbing. They left Niche on the ground hemorrhaging blood.

Mad Outta Me Head also dives into Kavanaugh’s experiences with Colombian women, which had me doubled over in laughter:

She became a fuckin’ bitch. She plunked herself down and kinda, ‘I’m not movin’. You wanna get me out you have to kick me out.’ She wouldn’t do any fuckin’ house cleanin’. She wouldn’t get outta bed. Puttin’ on a big fuckin’ face every time I saw her. Makin’ problems, inventin’ problems. Instead of getting up and doin’ what you’re supposed to do, she wouldn’t do it.

Colin’s book is also a great work of history and cultural anthropology. He frequently interweaves anecdotes about Irish and Colombian history into the narrative, allowing you to place Kavanaugh’s life in the greater cultural context. Some of the most enjoyable segments of the book don’t even discuss Kavanaugh at all, but are the ones that talk about the Provisional IRA’s antics in seventies-era Ireland or the civil war in Colombia. This makes Mad Outta Me Head a great read if you’re interested in Irish and/or Colombian history.

Unfortunately, the book isn’t perfect.

My biggest issues with Mad Outta Me Head is the amateurish way its references are laid out. Instead of organizing the news articles and web pages he refers to with endnotes, Colin just copy and pastes URLs directly into the text itself. Not only does this look sloppy, the URLs themselves are useless unless you’re reading the book on a tablet or computer: my Kindle Touch’s browser is an absolute piece of shit.

The second problem with Colin’s book is the same one that afflicts most indie books: slipshod editing. While not bad by any means, there are more typos and awkwardly phrased sentences then I would like. This extends to the subtitle: “Addiction and Underworld” sounds clunky and weird. Additionally, Kavanaugh’s excerpts, which are written in his Irish slang, are curiously missing apostrophes at the end of words like “fuckin'” and “cleanin’.”

But these are small potatoes. As a work of cultural anthropology and a biography of a truly fascinating man, Mad Outta Me Head is one of the best books I’ve read this year so far. If you enjoy both history and stories of crazy adventure, it’s absolutely worth your time.

Click here to buy Mad Outta Me Head: Addiction and Underworld from Ireland to Colombia.

Read Next: Bogota Brothel Tours: A Brief Career in Colombia’s Sex Trade by Colin Post