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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gun Machine: As Dirty as a New York Street

Posted by on Sat, Feb 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Warren Ellis has written some great comics—Transmetropolitan, especially, is a favorite—but I was thoroughly unimpressed with his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, which felt like a bunch of "shocking" scenes fed together into something that, if you squinted, resembled a novel. This was surprising, especially since Freakangels and Transmetropolitan proved that Ellis understood the mechanics of novelistic storytelling.

Turns out, Crooked Little Vein must've just been a rickety test run, because Ellis's second novel, Gun Machine, is a great little scabrous entertainment of a novel. Gun Machine feels like the extended pilot episode of a cop show* that's gone rotten in the back of the fridge. In the course of a disastrous emergency call, a New York City police detective named John Tallow stumbles into a mysterious apartment lined with guns. Further inspection proves that every one of the guns is tied to an unsolved murder. Which means that the world's cleverest serial killer is out there, somewhere, and he knows that the cops were just alerted to his existence.

Gun Machine is a well-written procedural, and it's studded with digressions that don't serve any purpose but to amuse the reader. ("At any given time, there seemed to be at least four bars in the Five Boroughs called the Blarney Stone."). The language is blunt and nasty (sample sentence: "The room was a grimy box.") and evocative. Some of Ellis's most obvious tics are present here—Tallow quickly acquires a pair of sidekicks who speak exactly like Ellis characters, with over-the-top threats and other antisocial barbs in their dialogue—but they don't feel stapled on. This is a dark ride, but it's familiar enough that it never stops feeling comfortable.

* Worryingly, Gun Machine has already been optioned for a TV show. I hope this doesn't mean that future outings from Ellis will get formulaic; his books are always better when there's a sense of danger to them.


Comments (5) RSS

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Doctor Memory 1
The digression about the omnipresent Blarney Stone bars in lower manhattan is based on fact, although he seems to have placed the one that his characters drink at several blocks north of the actual 1st Precinct Blarney Stone, which is hidden near the Battery Tunnel entrance on Trinity St, and given it a rear patio that the real one sadly lacked.

Thankfully, there's miles and miles of hard road between an option contract being signed and a TV show being picked up, so I doubt we have to worry much about a hypothetical "John Tallow, NYPD" show any time soon.
Posted by Doctor Memory on February 2, 2013 at 1:30 PM · Report this
This is a great book, but he needed an editor to remove his Britishisms: he referred to people crossing "the road" rather than the "street," for instance, which is not how anyone in New York not telling a Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road joke in a Blarney Stone bar would say. And I have been in at least two of the four Blarney Stones. But compelling, funny, violent and characters (including the bad guy) you actually see as real people and give a shit about.
Posted by Chicago Fan on February 2, 2013 at 1:57 PM · Report this
Not surprised that "Gun Machine" would be optioned; it's got "dark, quirky cop show" literally written all over it. I just hope it's being optioned by a net, say AMC or HBO, that will actually know what to do with it, and will let it be as dark, rough, and bloody as it needs to be to retain Ellis' vision.
Posted by COMTE on February 2, 2013 at 2:11 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 4
@2: if you were ever in the Trinity St one circa 1999-2000, we've probably been drunk at each other.
Posted by Doctor Memory on February 2, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
@4 Nope, not there then. But it is true that in many an Irish New York bar, people get drunk at each other rather than with each other. White Horse Tavern still my favorite. The creepy portrait of Dylan Thomas, who drank himself to death there, makes the place. Also, good fries.
Posted by Chicago Fan on February 2, 2013 at 4:42 PM · Report this

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