by Warren Ellis
25 Words or Less:
In the aftermath of a bizarre and brutal police-involved shooting, the surviving detective discovers an apartment literally covered in guns from floor to ceiling…
Tight minimalism. I like it all over.
Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:
Professional, no errors noted, American English.
This is fine crime pulp, slickly written and with a sharp noir edge to it. Ellis has no problem presenting violence in grisly detail, but he can also write around the corners of it with style, which sets this apart from run-of-the-mill murder fetishising, even given the colossal reality quirk that the core premise is based on.
Characterisation & Dialogue:
Detective John Tallow reads a lot, enough that the back compartment of the cruiser he shares with his partner is stuffed with so many books they have to kick a space clear if they actually want to put a prisoner in there too. Detective Jim Rosato got married, to a nurse of course, and she’s got him exercising so hard to get healthy that he thinks his knees have fused solid. The man with the shotgun in the building with no elevator is stark bollock naked and has no intention of allowing his home to be stolen by a gentrifying neighbourhood without a fight.
On top of these three stooges, we also meet a scattering of uniforms and in particular the detective’s female lieutenant, all of whom are given at the very least momentary life in passing. The lieutenant goes without a name but is not with character, and this (as with his truncated relationship with Rosato) is revealing of how Tallow categorises his colleagues, people to be trusted but kept at an emotional distance because of the constant risk of loss that goes with their line of work. And the loss arrives fast.
Was I enticed by the story so far? Yes. Responding to a report that a mad man with a gun just randomly shot up a door in his building, Tallow and Rosato roll up and enter, climb three flights of stairs until they are just around the corner from the shooter, and prepare to engage him. That’s when Rosato’s knee turns out to be the opposite of fused, folding under his weight and spilling him head-first into a shotgun blast, spraying half his brains and one of his eyes across the stairwell. Tallow looks at his dead partner, looks at the man who killed him, and then does the natural thing, four times to the chest and one to the head.
After the crime scene unit and paramedics are on site, Tallow–still not thinking clearly about what has just gone down–remembers that there was a shot-gunned door in the story too. When he knocks there’s no answer, but a torch shone through the hole into the darkness beyond reflects back off many little metal things, and he orders a couple of uniforms to open it up. Easier said than done, the door resists even a battering ram, so Tallow has them knock a hole through the wall instead.
When he steps into the apartment, he finds it full of guns. They are mounted on the walls, arranged in patterns on the floor… everywhere. The only place there aren’t any guns is on the door–which is instead loaded down with a spectacular number of locks and bolts–and the apartment’s one, small window, a thin shaft of light breaking in between heavy curtains.
Tallow sicks the CSU team on his weird new find then goes for a coffee. Now he has time to think the weight of Rosato’s death begins to settle, though Tallow remains calm, perhaps more so than is really healthy. When his lieutenant joins him after notifying his partner’s new widow, she is troubled by his demeanour and orders him to take 48 hours off–but his break is barely begun when she calls him back into the office first thing the next day. He has a case to handle, and you’ll never guess which it is…
The heightened reality of the gun room and the story that prepares to emerge from it is a cool hook, but I only know about that from the blurb on the Amazon page. What made this sample sing was, a) the smart style, and b) the humanising details given all of the characters that we encounter in the opening pages. There is a mystery coming, and interesting people to investigate it–Tallow in particular. Cool name on the guy, cool title on the book too.
Gun Machine pretty much blew me away. I strongly doubt it will be for everyone, but as a teaser for the book to come this sample is basically perfect, right down to the final line.
= Technicalities =
Title: Gun Machine
Author: Warren Ellis
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Price: $7.76 (July 2015)