cover image Gun Machine

Gun Machine

Warren Ellis. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-18740-4

Reviewed by Jason Starr. In Warren Ellis's riveting new thriller, Manhattan is under siege by the most prolific serial killer in New York City's history. During an exchange of gunfire outside an apartment on Pearl Street, NYPD detective John Tallow's partner is killed by a naked gunman. In the aftermath, Tallow makes a surprising discovery when he pokes through a wall into an apartment near the crime scene: dozens of guns arranged in what seems to be an ordered pattern. Matters are complicated when he learns that the guns are connected to unsolved homicides over the past 20 years, and one of the weapons is the Bulldog .44 used by the Son of Sam, stolen from an evidence room in the Bronx. The killer who calls himself The Hunter -- we are introduced to him early on -- is a delusional schizophrenic who believes that he lives in old New York. The chapters from the Hunter's point of view are particularly effective, as Ellis writes in a close third-person voice, letting us in on the distorted thoughts of a mad man: "Parts of New Manhattan dropped out of his sensorium. He could smell oak, pine, and sweet birch. Heard a flock of plovers clatter out of the treetops in fright." Tallow, who has fallen out of his lieutenant's favor, is given the seemingly insurmountable task of investigating dozens of unsolved murders and ultimately tracking down the Hunter. While the novel has the basic structure of a cat-and-mouse serial killer thriller, Ellis does a fine job of adding a highly unusual spin on the genre. The Hunter is obsessed with New York City's history; through his thoughts we experience glimpses into the city's past, and the explanation for the gun trophies from his crimes is inspired. Tallow's investigation of the guns is fascinating as well, and he rises to the occasion and proves to be a tough, clever, likable hero. Primarily known as a prolific writer of comics and graphic novels (Transmetroplitan, Hellblazer), Ellis makes his second foray into prose novel writing after Crooked Little Vein, and his visual skill and attention to detail is evident, especially in his depiction of violence: "The hunter drove his knife through her hard palate and twisted. She died right there, and the only sound she made was the splashing of all the blood in her head falling out of her mouth and onto the concrete floor." Ellis, a U.K. native, writes about New York and New Yorkers with no missteps, and while his vision of the city is that of an ultra-violent hellhole where vicious murders are commonplace, he peppers the narrative with humor and vivid descriptions of violence that are simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. Ultimately, the vivid violent set pieces stand out, especially in the final confrontation between Tallow and the Hunter. Gun Machine propels the multitalented Ellis, already a household name in the world of comics, into the ranks of the best crime writers in the business. (Jan.) Jason Starr is the international bestselling author of many crimes novels, including The Follower and Panic Attack, and writes the ongoing Marvel Comics series Wolverine Max. Jason Starr is the international bestselling author of many crime novels, including The Follower and Panic Attack, and writes the ongoing Marvel Comics series Wolverine Max.