Gun machine

Gun machine / Warren Ellis. Originally published 2013.

This review is by special request.

Celebrated graphic novel author Warren Ellis continues his invasion of the rest of the literary world with Gun machine. Consciously written as an assault on the police procedural genre, Gun machine takes the mystery novel to places familiar yet also incredibly weird.

Brief plot description

(Spoilers for the first chapter and part of the second)

Gun machine is the story of veteran NYPD detective John Tallow. While responding to a call involving a nude man with a shotgun Tallow’s partner of 20 years is killed, and Tallow finds himself faced with solving they mystery of a sealed apartment filled with weapons linked to unsolved murders. Teaming up with two eccentric forensic analysts Tallow is made responsible for investigating and solving hundreds of murders and stopping the most prolific serial killer ever to go unnoticed.

So how is it?

It’s wonderful and disturbing. Ellis has populated his fictional New York City with some of the most memorable characters to ever grace a police procedural. Tallow is eccentric, erudite, and increasingly desensitized to the daily horrors he experiences. The forensic analysts who become his assistants in his journey are some of the most interesting supporting characters in recent memory. As with his other work, Ellis writes characters who are incredibly strange but who are still recognizable as people who, in the end, do actually care about things, regardless of how disaffected they may feel.

Gun machine is unapologetically violent. The opening chapter features a gruesome depiction of the death of Tallow’s partner, and Tallow’s travels around the city are punctuated by the police dispatcher’s reports of bizarre and disturbing crimes. Ellis has toned down the content somewhat compared to Crooked little vein (which will be the subject of another post eventually), making it more accessable but still retaining enough of Ellis’s signature weirdness that fans will not be disappointed. The hero might not encounter a theater full of Godzilla fetishists this time, but the more focused story is still so over the top that you’d need a telescope to find it.

It’s not all death, violence, and dismemberment though (not necessarily in that order). Gun machine is also genuinely funny. There’s an amusing incident involving a break-in of Tallow’s apartment that will definitely stay with you. As disaffected as Tallow is, he is still witty and the absurdity of the whole thing really shines through. That’s not to say that this is necessarily a “funny” book. It still tells a serious, gripping story. Ellis manages to convey both horror, excitement, and humor in roughly equal measure, without detracting from any of the three.

The biggest criticism I could level is that everything is a little too “neat”. There are a number of convenient coincidences that cause everything to fit together implausibly nicely for a book as obsessed with criticising the crime thriller as much as this one is. Still, it didn’t really prevent me from enjoying the book for what it was.

Strengths:

An excellent cast of memorable characters

A gripping story that makes it hard to put down

Manages to be simultaneously serious and overwhelmingly silly

Criticises the police procedural while still hitting all of the main points that make the genre interesting

Weaknesses:

Graphic violence will definitely deter some readers

It hits all the main points of the police procedural genre, so if you have an abiding hatred of that sort of novel you probably won’t get too much out of this one

All the pieces click together a little too easily

Recommendation:

Gun machine is great for fans of police procedurals and mystery novels who can handle the intense violence. Fans of Jack Reacher-style thrillers will also probably enjoy it, as will fans of horror fiction.

I have recommended it many times, generally fairly successfully. It’s the perfect book to recommend to that 20-30 something dude who likes graphic novels because “Spider Jerusalem is my man!” (actual quote). Fans of Ellis will find more to love here, as will readers who enjoy Chuck Palahniuk.

So here are some of the people I’ve recommended it to:

male, late 20s: Loved it. They weren’t usually a novel reader but this got them more interested in the form, immediately ordering Crooked little vein through ILL. I’ve recommended this book to several more 20-30 something types and the response has been fairly consistent.

male, early 50s: told me that I needed to review it here (you know who you are). Especeially enjoyed the apartment incident, apparently.

female, late 20s: enjoyed the book but felt like everything was a little too convenient.

Fans of this book should consider checking out:

Crooked little vein / Warren Ellis

Survivor / Chuck Palahniuk

Transmetropolitan / Warren Ellis

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