Gun Machine is the new book by Warren Ellis and it is great. It’s less weird than Crooked Little Vein, but is a tight little police story you can tell is from the same guy who wrote Fell.
John Tallow is a New York City cop who accidentally finds an apartment full of guns. Not just a few shelves of them, but guns arrayed on the walls and floor like a shrine. Once they start getting analyzed it becomes clear that this isn’t just a gun nut’s shack; each weapon has been used in an unsolved NYC murder. Investigation ensues.
There’s a lot to love about this book. Tallow is a detective who is very believable in his “just going through the motions” before he starts working the case. Ellis writes likable foul-mouthed weirdos as Tallow’s sort-of assigned partners. The story (and the case) moves quickly, but it works. I bought that this didn’t need to be five seasons of a TV series (though The Wire made me right at home with the police politics on display in the story). There are a few coincidences at work that might make your eyebrow raise but Ellis is playing fair with you. It all works.
My least favourite part is the Native American history that gets bandied about, and that was mostly because I know Warren Ellis is an Englishman and this stuff is easy to get wrong. But anything here is way less problematic from my point of view than Johnny Depp as Tonto.
Though Pappa Warren writes great violence — “From his vantage, three steps back and to the right, Tallow could see Rosato’s eye a good five inches outside Rosato’s head and still attached to his eye socket by a mess of red worms.” — I think my favourite bit of pure wordsmithery was a cooking scene late in the book. There are all these details that work into Tallow’s mental state and the realization he has works so well with them, I wanted to applaud.
It’s a pretty quick read so if you’re not a huge Warren Ellis fan, you might want to go for an ebook edition, but the jacket design is great. There’s also a website with some interesting supplemental materials.
Scalped is a crime story set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota. There are corrupt politicians who own the new casinos, people who just want to get the hell away from poverty, and Dashiell Bad Horse, an undercover FBI agent who grew up on the reservation and is now back to expose some seedy underbelly to justice. In Indian Country Dashiell Bad Horse gets set up as a cop on the reservation in employ of bad people, and there are double-crosses and a casino opens and people end up dead.
It’s really good crime fictiony stuff. Each issue within the trade paperback ends on a story-changing reveal but it doesn’t feel forced. If you like 100 Bullets, this’ll probably appeal.
The thing that makes me a little twitchy about the book is that neither Jason Aaron nor R.M. Guéra are Sioux or any other First Nation. Does it matter? Well, at one point a big nasty character feeds right into a corrupt savages kind of viewpoint and actually scalps another one. Does that happen if this is a book about the underside of the writer’s culture, rather than some other-ized culture? I don’t think it does. (And to be clear, every white person in the book so far is a terrible murdering double-crossing selfish asshole too. But they shoot people, not scalp them.) At this point, one volume in, I don’t know if that’ll keep on being an issue. I’ll keep reading to find out.
Scott O’Dell’s book The King’s Fifth is about Spanish conquistadors seeking gold in the New World. It bounces between the young map-making narrator languishing in jail for trying to defraud the king of his share of the gold and telling the story of how they found it. It’s a tale of casual brutality towards the native people, and abandoning your dreams for greed (but then redeeming yourself in the end once everyone has died).
It wasn’t bad, just predictable. The blurb on GoodReads seems to be from a time when casual genocide was still considered heroic. Hm. I didn’t realize until just now how old this story was since my copy was an ebook. I don’t think that makes much of a difference to my response.