Gun Machine: Warren Ellis's brutal, hard-boiled cop novel never stops for breath

Happy New Year! Warren Ellis's second novel, Gun Machine, ships today, and it's the kind of grim, mean hard-boiled fiction that is just the right tonic for your hangover from 2012: the booze, the Mayan apocalypse, the austerity, the misery and revolutions betrayed and horror and bile and pain —

But I digress.

As with his first novel, 2007's Crooked Little Vein, Ellis manages to transition the kind of grotesque madcap action that makes his graphic novels so memorable and enjoyable into prose. This isn't a novelisation of Transmetropolitan by any means, but it enjoys a similar kind of density, largely thanks to interludes in which Ellis enumerates all the awful crimes announced on a police-radio that his protagonist, a NYC detective named Tallow, is addicted to.

Gun Machine is a hard-boiled cop story that opens with Tallow and his doomed partner confronting a deranged nude man with a shotgun who spatters the partner's brains all over Tallow before Tallow blows him away. But losing a partner is just the start of Tallow's problems. By chapter two, he's checked out the seemingly empty apartment next-door to the killer's, and discovered an enormous cache of mouldering guns, arranged in a kind of patterned tapestry on the walls. What's more, each of these guns is from a seemingly related, unsolved murder on the streets on New York, stretching back decades.

Tallow has just discovered the trophy room of the most prolific, most successful serial killer in New York City history. And now his troubles have started. Because while Tallow should technically be sent off for mandatory leave while he gets over the death of his partner and his own killing of the deranged slayer, he is instead sent to the bowels of One Police Plaza, charged with solving hundreds of crimes, some of them decades old. The only help he has in this is a pair of misfit CSU investigators, and in their way stands some of the richest and most powerful people in New York — some of whom seem to have benefited from the killer's convenient removal of their rivals at key junctures in their stellar careers.

As if that wasn't enough, Tallow is also being hunted, by — who else? — the serial killer whose trophies he has just discovered and seized. The most remorseless killer in New York's history is after him with a literal vengeance, and now his problems are really kicking off.

Gun Machine is a novel that never stops to draw breath. It's a monster of a book, bowel-looseningly scary in places, darkly uproarious in others, and remorseless as the killer who hunts in its pages. Ellis never disappoints, but this is particularly good, even by the high standards of a Warren Ellis tale.

Gun Machine