I’m a big fan of Warren Ellis’ comics work. Planetary was great, and Transmetropolitan seems like it might actually be important and stuff. I’m pretty sure that “Where’s my fucking jet pack!”, as a line and as a concept, will stay with me forever. I recently read three of his X-men volumes (Ghost Box, Exogenetic, and Xenogenesis), which weren’t quite up there with the Whedon and Morrison X-men stuff that I very very much liked, but which were still well decent. In short, I’m a fan. I haven’t read his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, but the same cannot, now, be said of his second, Gun Machine.
Gun Machine is written in a classic noir mode. A New York detective happens upon a room full of guns, laid out in intricate patterns across the walls and floor. All of them, it transpires, can be linked to unexplained, and heretofore unlinked, killings from across the last couple of decades. The first part of this set up is portrayed very stylishly in a trailer created by Ben Templesmith and W(h)il Wheaton.
The detective protagonist, Tallow, has to deal with the political fallout of this lethal trove while trying to overcome chronic burnout, the death of his cop partner, and the two feral CSI agents he’s been lumped with. Of course, solving the case would also be nice.
It quickly becomes apparent that vested interests want the case shut down as soon as possible. Nonetheless, as clues gradually emerge and suspicions are formed, a clearer picture of the murderer is formed. This character, simply called the Hunter, is a great creation. Powerfully psychotic, it’s unclear at times whether the strangeness in the scenes told from his perspective is simply a manifestation of his hallucinations, or whether the novel is set in a dark urban fantasy universe.
I liked it a lot. There’s humour and violence a plenty. Unsurprisingly, given the author, it also has whip sharp dialogue — not necessarily realistic, but savagely entertaining. I thought, “You sound like a piglet getting it up the ass from an angry horse” was a pretty good insult. I also liked the pessimistic transhumanist characterisation of one of the CSI agents: It’s not a body — it’s a death bag. Eating may be a waste of time, but when the death bag insists…
It wasn’t perfect — procedural-wise there was a bit too much coincidence, convenience, and deus-ex-machina-ing than was strictly necessary — but it was definitely worth the read. Recommended.