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Gun Machine Paperback – January 3, 2013
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|Paperback, January 3, 2013||
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Detective John Tallow is a classic burnout, sleepwalking on the job until the day his supercop partner (and only friend) is killed by a shotgun-wielding lunatic. The incident was Tallow’s first on-the-job shooting, and he doesn’t disagree with the majority view that he shouldn’t have been the cop left standing. Then, when a shrine of ritualistically displayed firearms is found in the apartment building where his partner died, Tallow finds himself wanting answers. Analysis of the cache connects each weapon to a murder, and Tallow is assigned to work with two wildly eccentric geniuses on the crime-scene unit to try to end the killer’s decades-long killing spree. Gun Machine is built around a trio of intoxicating weirdos who twist the mold of the familiar detective-and-forensic-specialist combo. Strong interplay between historic Manahatta (think Native American) and technology’s future role in policing creates a big-picture backdrop for catch-the-crazy-killer thrills. Lisa Black fans and those who love quirky characters in a high-stakes police procedural will find plenty to like here. --Christine Tran --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
"Wonderful...a blast...barbs that should have the scriptwriters for Bones scribbling on napkins. More fun than I've had out of a crime novel in a long time."—Michael Robbins, <em>Chicago Tribune</em> --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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This book describes, during a very brief two days, the paths of two people: a NYPD detective and a psychotic serial killer, as they wend their way through a dark, narrow, but well-depicted New York City to the inevitable denouement. The plot is as well worked out as is the pace at which the author drives it. Some might describe this as a "comic book novel," but it's a marvelously entertaining tale for all of that.
Boredom will not be an issue, as Ellis knows how to make a story move. By far the most elaborately developed character in the book is the "Hunter," which is the only name by which the killer is ever known, even after he is identified by Detective Tallow's eccentric crime scene investigator sidekicks, and this book might be recommended just for the depiction of the Hunter. The story is extremely violent at times, but is completely consistent with the story itself. Some may find the type of anti-hero portrayed in Detective John Tallow to be appealing, but I found it less so— although he is interesting, for all of that.
If Ellis has a weakness here, it is the same as with others who elect to write or report about guns, but who have insufficient knowledge about their subject. Suffice to say that there are some inaccuracies in this area, although of a nature that only those familiar with guns and shooting will be likely to take note. To give a salient example, he has his killer (the "Hunter") wielding a Colt Police Positive, a 6-shot revolver, from which in a single sequence he is able to fire eight rounds. Particularly as guns are a leitmotif for his book, Mr. Ellis should have done more homework.
When you boil it down, Gun Machine is a story about stories. There are the stories behind each individual gun found in the Manhattan apartment. There is a story behind every victim of the serial killer known only as "The Hunter" and then there is the story that they all tell when organized into the intricate patterns found on the walls of Apartment 3A. New York City itself can be considered a machine full of smaller automatons that constantly grind out story after story.
Ellis does a phenomenal job at telling these stories. He presents the reader with a deep, complex character in Tallow and develops him mainly through his dialog and actions. Instead of boring the reader with page after page of exposition, he lets each character grow naturally. Despite learning a almost nothing about Tallow or The Hunter's past, by the end of the story you feel like you've known them your entire life.
Gun Machine is a much more mainstream work than Ellis' previous novel, Crooked Little Vein, or his comic book work. That doesn't mean, though, that it is without his trademark wit or love of the obscure weirdness inherent in the human race. There are no movie theaters with Godzilla hands for sale or saline junkies to be found in these pages. Instead of hitting you directly over the head with the dark acts people do when alone, Ellis uses the police band radio to tell these stories. As off the wall as some of city's music may be, knowing Ellis there is truth to be found in every one of them.
Gun Machine is not perfect, but even my biggest complaint is fairly minor. The reader is presented with the grand mystery/conspiracy, but there is actually very little police work done. Tallow recognizes right away what he needs to do... work each case individually until you find what's missing - the killer. Do this for enough cases and eventually the shape of that missing piece will start to become clear. Unfortunately, the investigative plot seems to be driven forward more by wild leaps of faith and unexplained insights than by actual discovery. Tallow always seems to be a step ahead of where he should be, but not so far ahead that the threads of the book come unraveled. Additionally, I felt that The Hunter's chapters came a little bit to early and gave away too much too soon. I would have liked to have been in the dark just a while longer.
Overall, Gun Machine is another winner by Ellis and Mulholland Press. Fans of both Ellis and Crime fiction should find it to be a fairly quick but deep and entertaining read.
Now, having it completed it months ago, I still can still recall where elements of this book lost me. Much like most other of Ellis' writings, the cynical is combined with the unique characters. Whereas characters like those in "Crooked Little Vein" and "Doktor Sleepless" are large personalities, characters here like John Tallow feel like they were meant to be as such but couldn't wrestle themselves free of their constraints. While it could be due to the story itself lacking an original flavor, the characters never seemed to peel themselves off the page for me.
For what it's worth, "Gun Machine" has enough wackiness stuffed into the cracks to keep it from being a standard issue police procedural. The premise can feel a bit detached and held together by ever loosening threads, but I never wanted to walk away without knowing the whole story. For a book that sometimes felt like it wanted to be shorter, it's a fairly quick-paced read.