Warren Ellis is best known for comic books like “Red” and “Planetary,” but his book “Gun Machine” is a good and offbeat New York police thriller.
The book follows NYPD detective John Tallow in the days following the on-the-job killing of his partner. The two had been responding to a call about a man in a run-down apartment building with a gun when the unhinged man shot and killed the partner. Tallow looks through a hole blown in an apartment wall and finds the place is full of guns – and not ones that belonged to the unhinged man who took out Tallow’s partner. The elaborate display of guns from over a couple hundred years is fetishistic, almost a temple dedicated to the firearms within. But who could their owner be?
In a city plagued by too much violence and too many cases to clear, Tallow’s fellow cops and CSIs greet this discovery with scorn and hostility, all of it directed at Tallow. That’s because every one of the discovered guns tested in police labs turns out to be a gun used in a separate, unsolved murder case. Tallow has stumbled across a horrific secret: The lair of a particularly prolific and bent hit man.
Working with CSIs Scarly and Bat, Tallow pulls at threads and tests limitations, including those of himself and his superiors. That’s because when some of the guns turn out to have been used in historic crimes, it becomes obvious that someone hasn’t just been hoarding random guns. Someone has been funneling guns – including the revolver used by Son of Sam – to the killer.
Although the plot is grim and involves not only high-level corruption between the police department and some high-level NYC corporations, there’s a lot of humor here. Most of that comes from Bat and Scarly, Tallow’s initially reluctant but increasingly enthusiastic partners. Bat is something of a geek cliche but one that’s well done. Scarly is a lipstick lesbian in a deeply committed but deeply odd relationship with a formidable partner.
I’ve read that there’s some thought to making “Gun Machine” into a TV series and I suppose that’s fine. But I wouldn’t want the book to be turned into TV’s typical police procedural with quirky characters. There’s a lot of potential for more stories about Tallow, Bat and Scarly if they do them right.