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Gun Machine (2013) – Audiobook Review

Gun Machine cover

Written by Warren Ellis
Performed by Reg E. Cathey
Published by Hachette Audio

NYPD detective John Tallow has just seen his partner of twenty years shot by a crazy naked man with a shotgun. Of course, Tallow responses in kind by shooting the crazy man dead. This would have been the incident where Tallow, burdened with years of the violence and brutality of New York, finally shuts down.

However, the naked madman with a shotgun blew a hole into an apartment. When checking to see if anyone is hurt, Tallow discovers an apartment covered in guns. All sorts of guns from flintlocks to Saturday Night Specials, all arranged like pixels in a digital picture. They seem to convey some sort of meaning or purpose but it may be beyond sanity. Even weirder, when a sampling of the guns is tested, all of them are connected to cold cases of unsolved homicides. In other words, Tallow has just reopened over 400 unsolved murder cases and the department is not happy. His “reward” for this discovery is to investigate who did all this. And why would be nice too. So Tallow has to deal with two rather odd CSUs, a department that wouldn’t mind this whole mess sinking into the Hudson, and the killer who is very smart, very talented, and very pissed that someone fucked with his guns.

[ad#longpost]One of Warren Ellis‘ talents is to take a standard troupe and crank it to eleven. He took the superhero team and gave us The Authority. He took psychic teenagers and gave us Freakangels. He took the team of experts a la Mission Impossible and gave us Global Frequency. So when he takes on the serial killer milieu frequented by James Patterson, Michael Connelly, and Jonathan Kellerman…you know it is going to be wild.

What’s interesting is that while the story is stuffed with strange concepts and actual madness, it is firmly grounded in reality. The concept of low-latency trading, where tiny stock trades are completed in nanoseconds and the one with the shortest cable wins…it sounds fantastic but the evolution of faster and more powerful trading algorithms has been happening under people’s noses. That’s the point of the book, that strange worlds exist as close as a fiber optic cable running under the street or behind a door in an rundown apartment building.

Ellis really works to twist the stereotypes of the genre. Tallow seems the typical broken but driven detective–but he is broken not from a traumatic event, just from dealing for years with the constant violence of the city. He comes up as more natural than the bevy of detectives, profilers, and special agents that carry their private pain on their sleeve. The Hunter, the “villain” of the piece, also comes across as more real… as a high functioning schizophrenic can. He’s not a suave super genius or…well, someone broken from a traumatic event. His actions, considering his delusions, make sense and Ellis gives a compelling vision into his mind and we got to understand, at least a little, of The Hunter’s world. Ellis’ prose writing has also improved from the strung together vignettes of Crooked Little Vein into a tight cohesive thriller, all without sacrificing his patented science weirdness.

Reg E Cathey

Since this is a audiobook, sometimes the voice is just a conveyance for the words and sometimes this is good enough if the words are good enough. But with some, the voice actor adds to the book with the tone and rhythm. Reg E. Cathy’s (The Wire, House of Cards) deep, gritty voice invokes the urban jungle of New York: hard and scarred, but with a seductive vibe that brings people to the city despite its tendency to eat many of those people alive.

While it is sad that Warren Ellis seems to be stepping away from comics, if he continues to produce books like Gun Machine, I suppose he can be forgiven. So buy the book.

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