Review: Warren Ellis' Gun Machine

Review: Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine

Posted by October 30, 2012 Comment

Greg Baldino writes for Bleeding Cool.

You know, at this rate, Warren Ellis may leave comics for crime fiction and not look back. This January sees the release of his second novel Gun Machine from Mulholland Books, his second full-length prose work since 2007’s Crooked Little Vein.

Although primarily known for his comics work, in particular his political SF series Transmetropolitan, he’s steadily produced a parallel body of prose work ranging from essays–many of which have been collected in various editions– to flash fiction such as those collected in the photo/prose compilation Available Light.

Gun Machine, coming out in between the cinematic works based on his graphic novella RED, may be his breakthrough novel into mainstream crime fiction. The book concerns NYPD detective John Tallow and what happens to him after a domestic disturbance call goes as bad as humanly possibly (nudity and shotguns are involved, let’s just say.) The aftermath leaves him in a shattered state emotionally; the kind that realistically should have him released on psychological leave to cope with a motherload of PTSD. Except that the aftermath of the call has unearthed a sealed tenement apartment coated with firearms.

Literally. They coat the walls like lichen.

Hundreds of random guns turning up is a jurisdictional headache regardless, but when each of the weapons turns out to be connected to an unsolved homicide, the whole crisis is dumped in Tallow’s lap. And Tallow really shouldn’t be back to work. Not after what happened in the stairwell.

Gun Machine is a darker novel than CLV, and possibly more accesible. Whereas his first novel trafficked in sexual extremity, Machine contains itself to the human act of violent murder, which for some reason is more palatable to Western civilization. The humor is still there, but as more of a tempering influence, entering the book when Tallow meets the crime scene technicians assigned to work with him:

Scarly was a birdlike woman in her midtwenties in the process of yelling “Of course I don’t care if you’re bleeding! I’m fucking autistic!” at an ill-looking man with five years on her whose appearance wasn’t improved by the absence of a chunk of left ear.

Trust me, they’re great. The story is delightfully twisty. Tallow joins the ranks of Ellis’ many detective characters like CLV’s Mike McGill and Fell’s Richard Fell, but stands as a wholly different creature from any of his gumshoe brothers. Tallow’s a damaged disturbed man, in subtle ways that creep out as distinct in a novel full of disturbed and damaged people. The book’s villain is sincerely disturbing, and the chapters focusing on him are windows into madness. People die in this book, and to Ellis’ credit it’s never cavalier. And for a book written by an Englishman, it manages to portray a Manhattan that feels real without succumbing to cinematic shorthand.

Television rights to Gun Machine have already been acquired by Fox, and frankly it’ll work. Without giving anything away about the plot, the structure of the book offers a means by which the novel works as a single volume, but could be made to play as a serial with minimal tinkering. Gun Machine is a breakneck cat-and-mouse game where every death is a punch in the stomach and every clue raises the stakes tenfold. Fans of Dexter and Criminal Minds are going to love it; it’s a shame the book won’t be out in time for Christmas, but then there’s always preorders…

Gun Machine is slated for a January 2013 release in hardcover for $25.99 from Mulholland Books.

Author photo by Ellen Rogers. Greg Baldino lives and writes in the city of Chicago, a tottling town literally build on ashes and bones like some dark necromantic metropolis. Which would explain the Cubs. Follow him on twitter and he’ll tell you what to read, but expect no greater insights.

(Last Updated October 30, 2012 10:50 am )

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