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Gun Machine: Book Review

From the blurb:

The room is full of guns. Old ones. New ones. Modified ones. Hundreds of them. This is a collection belonging to someone who's been killing a long time. Secretly. And very, very effectively. This is the impossible case that New York detective John Tallow has to solve, before the killer catches up with him.

The headline for this book is: it is a well-written, generic police procedural. 2.5 "it was OK / I liked it" stars. There is nothing particularly original here. The protagonist, Tallow, is a hardboiled loner who spends too much time in his head, which was a well-worn trope decades ago, let alone in 2014. I kept waiting for the big, grim, Se7en-esque twist to come, but there isn't one; the crime, at least from the reader's perspective, is essentially solved about a third of the way through (thanks to sections of the book written from the killer's perspective). This quickly turns the book from a whodunnit to a whydunnit, but then the why is made pretty obvious early on, too; certainly by the halfway point. The book concludes with such 80s action film levels of neatness that I felt like I'd just run out the clock for sixty pages. I also have one more specific niggle: the gore was overdone. Ellis clearly relishes in trying to shock the reader with detailed, American Psycho descriptions of violence, punctuated with colourful similes (an example I can call to mind is a "baby's fistful of brain smacked against the wall" or something similar)--but I found this got stale quickly. The gore is so exaggerated it is cartoon like, and sits jarringly in the text. I've never read Warren Ellis before, but I know of him. He is essentially a genre figurehead, one of those people who seems to be at the forefront of so much; the kind of guy who producers and editors have on speed dial when they want a safe pair of hands to steer a major franchise. As a longstanding sci-fi reader (though admittedly I tend to read more standard space opera than the cyberpunky stuff Ellis goes in for) he crops up on the peripheries of my content awareness all the time. I was quite excited to delve into his mind and see what he could do. I think this is why I had expected something a bit cleverer than this cookie-cutter detective novel. Now, I don't want to shit all over the book; I was careful to open this review with "well-written"--because there can be no doubt that Ellis is a good writer. His characters are interesting and well fleshed-out, particularly the two CSU operatives who assist Tallow in his investigation. I enjoyed the interplay between them. I haven't read a huge number of crime books, but I bet that few of them contain such interesting, unique characters. Ellis has also clearly gone to lengths to properly research the book and the history of Manhattan, and this is woven seamlessly throughout the novel. I think it also demonstrates Ellis' talent that he can write so convincingly in an American voice, despite being English. This is not a bad book, and if I had been told before going into the novel, "by the way, there's nothing new here, it's just a very competent page-turner", then I'd have given it higher marks. I haven't been put off Ellis, either; I am quite keen to see what else is out there, particularly his comic book stuff. But I expected more, and found myself to be disappointed.

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