Writing about Reading: Gun Machine

January 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been a fan of writer Warren Ellis for a few years, and I can’t recall being disappointed by anything he’s written — and I’m including his tweets, blogs, email newsletters, and sundry other scribblings in that account. So when he announced that he was working on Gun Machine, it quickly became the most anticipated novel on my very short list of books to look forward to. I had months to heighten my expectations, and I sent them soaring into the exosphere. This, I knew, would be a Great Book.

Of course, you know what happens when you have such high expectations, right? No matter how wonderful the book or movie or meal or aged whisky, you often end up a little disappointed.

Not this time.

From the first page, Gun Machine grabbed me somewhere just south of my belt buckle and didn’t let go.

Ellis tells the story of NYPD Detective John Tallow, an aging cop going through the motions until he stumbles into the possibly biggest case in New York’s history — an apartment filled with guns.

The room was full of guns

Guns were mounted on all the walls. There were half a dozen guns at his feet. Turning around, flashlight at shoulder level, he saw that guns were mounted on the wall he had come in through. Some guns were mounted in rows, but the right-hand wall had them in complex swirls. Some were laid on the floor on the far side of the room, forming a shape he couldn’t quite fathom. There was paint daubed on those.

Tallow quickly discovers that this isn’t just a collection of firearms; each gun has been used in a single, unsolved murder. Hundreds of guns, hundreds of murders — one very dangerous killer. With no support from his department other than two eccentric CSUs, Tallow has to solve the case before NYPD politics force him out of the job, or the killer finds him, or both.

Gun Machine is by turns gritty and funny and gory and tense and batshit crazy — in other words, everything I’ve come to expect from Warren Ellis. And, as I’ve also come to expect, it is blindingly well written. Chapter Three stands out as a lesson in writing descriptively without stalling the story. A couple of chapters toward the end of the book are excellent examples of how to write fight scenes. The entire book could be studied for the way Ellis maintains tension throughout, easing off with humor just enough so that when he tightens the cord again, it bites even deeper.

In short, Gun Machine is a book you will find very difficult to put down.

I very rarely read books twice — too many books, too little time. Gun Machine, however, is a book I will return to again, and I am sure I will find much that I missed my first time through.

Dave Borcherding



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