Friday, April 5, 2013


GUN MACHINE by Warren Ellis (Mulholland Books, 2013)

Reviewed by Linda Lee 

I find it a bit daunting when I am given a proof of a new author and told to drop the publishers a review. I would much rather be delving into the pages of one of my much loved authors and experiencing the pleasure of falling into the rhythm of their prose and reacquainting myself with old friends. Of course these were “new to me” authors once too. So when I start a book by an unknown or new author, it really must make an impact in the first few chapters. Gun Machine certainly did just that.

Naked and shotgun in the first sentence are sure to grab the attention.

This is the situation that Detective John Tallow and his partner James Rosato are called upon to attend. In rather graphic style (and this is where Ellis’ comic and graphic novel work helps), Rosato is killed, as is the gunman. Upon investigation of the surrounding apartments, Tallow discovers a huge cache of guns. Old guns and modified guns, arranged in rows and spirals on the walls and floor. Hundreds of guns that, as it transpires, have each been used in a single unsolved murder. This means that Tallow’s department now has two decades of unsolved homicides to deal with. While some want to bury the whole lot under the carpet, John is sent, as a punishment and in the hope he will fail, to investigate. Tallow starts to find some themes that connects all the murders, as surely they must be, given the weapons were found together. A gun used years ago to commit a murder would decades later be used to commit a similar murder, before being stored in the apartment as a trophy. What Tallow also notes is that some of these weapons would have been impounded, meaning someone on the police force is involved.

Two CSU investigators are recruited to help: Bat, an almost anorexic gadget geek, and Scarly, a foulmouthed lesbian. They are every bit as weird and outrageous as their names suggest and the book is peppered with black humour. It is soon apparent that someone higher up than Tallow does not want the case(s) investigated and efforts are made to thwart the investigation.

The narrative of the story is split between Tallow and the killer/hunter; sometimes their paths cross, unknown to Tallow. Both of these characters are immersed in the history of New York, with the hunter believing he is living in the time of old Manhattan where Indians lived and hunted off the land. He forages for food in Central Park and dines on berries and dried squirrel meat. The hunter is portrayed as an unstoppable psychopath whose motives are entwined with the kills he has been hired to do. I felt this character was the weaker aspect of the book, a character who could be found in any murder mystery. The overused scenario of a crazy that is following a path only he can fathom. Tallow is a great character, a bit of a loner who likes the days of printed media and vinyl records. He reads a great deal, his car and apartment are full of books and newspapers, and in some ways he is as odd as the hunter although certainly more endearing.

I liked this book! It is vivid and pacy. The characters are the right mix of solid and dependable to the outright crazy. Having said that, I was a little disappointed in the ending, with the resolution almost a tried and true formula, and the case solved in true police procedural fashion. I would be interested in reading more books involving John Tallow, if there are to be more, and to see how he develops as a recurring main character.

Linda Lee is an avid crime fiction reader who works for Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton, New Zealand

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