- Title: Gun Machine
- Author: Warren Ellis
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Mulholland Books (January 14, 2014)
Not long after finishing Crooked Little Vein, I found myself picking up Gun Machine, another Warren Ellis novel, and I was not disappointed. Besides being one of my favorite writers in comics, Ellis is slowly creeping up my list of top novelists.
Detective John Tallow, responding to a 911 call, found himself having to gun down a naked man with a shotgun after the man shot his partner dead. Inadvertently finding a room in the same apartment building filled wall-to-wall with firearms from various periods in history arranged in some arcane pattern, the titular Gun Machine, linked to numerous unsolved murders the past twenty years. Thanks to the heap of cold cases reopened with this discovery, Tallow is tasked to find who owns this cache of guns and arrest them.
The traumatized Tallow certainly isn’t the right man for the job, at first. Even before his partner Jim Rosato was shot dead, Tallow is a brilliant but lazy cop who mostly coasts and lets Rosato do the heavy lifting. And then there’s the fact that he tends to get lost in his head, has little social skills, and what little of those social skills he has is nonexistent for the first half hour of the day.
During the course of this investigation, Tallow manages to rope in two Crime Scene Unit personnel no less eccentric than himself. Scarly, a lab tech who hoards stuff like paintball guns and whatever else her wife doesn’t want in the house in their lab and her partner Bat (not short for Batmobile, probably), a nerd with even worse manners than Tallow but is a whiz with technology. And got a chunk of his ear blown off by a wild firing pin from an old gun being tested.
While this unlikely trio goes around New York looking for clues that’ll lead them to the killer, at the same time in alternating chapters, the novel gives us the point of view of the killer, who for most of the book known only as ‘the hunter’. The hunter himself is an….eccentric man, who goes through great lengths to live life devoid of technology and comforts modern people take for granted. This changes the novel from a clichéd “Who did it?” to more of a “Who is this guy and why did he do it?” story.
In true Warren Ellis fashion, things do get weird, but unlike Crooked Little Vein, the weird stuff are mostly kept as background details, like the police band chatter saying that someone got their neck broken by a suicide bomber’s flying arm or a sex store clerk being beaten to death with a fifteen-pound dildo. And then there’s the Fuck You Robot constructed by Bat. It’ll make sense in context. The requisite dark humor is also ever-present, as does the vivid descriptions of violent acts. This is truly an Ellis work, through and through.
Another thing I found great about this book is it sometimes reads like a love letter to New York, delving into its history in detail and incorporating it into the plot, especially the bits about settlers coming into Mannahatta and how that affected the native residents. As befitting of the title as well, there are some loving descriptions of firearms from various makes and models, going at length into their history, their quirks, and the creative application of them as tools of murder. From the Lorcin .380 famed for its shoddy quality to a flintlock, this book is loaded with guns.
While it brings nothing new to the table of police procedural and crime thriller genre, Gun Machine is still a very, very solid read with its compelling characters, good pacing, and a healthy dose of black humor sprinkled with weirdness along with a little gore for good measure. For those of you too squeamish or just simply couldn’t read Crooked Little Vein, then this one’s for you. If you have read and enjoyed Crooked Little Vein, here’s another piece of Ellis goodness.