So it took me until now to finally get to Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine, and I’m sorry it took me so long! I’d been intrigued by the premise: a locked room filled with guns arranged in an arcane pattern, and the book trailer video– Gun Machine by Warren Ellis (trailer) narrated by Wil Wheaton– cemented my interest.
Gun Machine is about a burned out detective in New York. When John Tallow’s partner is killed in a shoot-out on Pearl Street, he should be given leave. But with the discovery of the room filled with guns, Tallow’s put in charge of the case, ostensibly because the force is stretched too thin, but possibly to give him a chance to fail completely and be put out to pasture. Because this room is filled with guns, and each one is attached to a specific unsolved murder. There’s no way to figure this out, but Tallow is nothing if not bull-headed.
At first glance, it looks like Gun Machine is almost satire because Warren Ellis has utilized so many traditional noir tropes– burned out cop, big city, addiction, no-win situation. But with a deft hand and a darkly sardonic sense of humor that actually had me laughing out loud, Ellis lifts John Tallow’s story out of the ordinary into something different. It’s still “mean streets noir,” but Ellis neatly sidesteps all the traditional pitfalls and brings a clear, new voice to a dark, urban tale.
Now I’ll grant you, when he relays what’s coming across the cop radio what he relates is pretty gruesomely dark, and is at times a bit hard to read. But that so clearly relates why Tallow is the way he is that it’s never gratuitous. And the characters that Tallow runs into along the way, including the killer, are fabulously developed, and you know I’m a sucker for great characters! And did I mention the humor?
Gun Machine is a great story, and I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. However, now that I have, I look forward to everything Warren Ellis writes, including his Twitter feed– he’s that good!
–Fran, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA