Ellis, Warren. Gun Machine.

NY: Little, Brown, 2013.

I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Ellis’s graphic novels, but this is a new departure for him. NYPD detective John Tallow, who seems to be slowly beginning the “don’t give a damn” phase of his police career, follows his partner into an aging apartment building where a naked man with a shotgun has been reported, only to have said partner blown away in front of him.

After he drops the perp, and backup arrives and begins canvassing the rest of the building for possible additional casualties, an apartment is discovered filled with an astonishing variety of handguns, back to and including a flintlock from the 1840s. And every one of those hundreds of weapons appears to be tied to an unsolved homicide. Tallow’s superiors put him on the case (instead of mandatory leave pending the shooting review) and it’s quickly clear that he’s expected to fail, and that he will be swept permanently aside when he does. And to help him achieve the impossible, he drafts a couple of very geeky crime scene techs, who are among the most interesting characters I’ve come across lately.

The action is unremitting and very visual (as you would expect from a graphic novelist), but the plotline doesn’t actually move in the direction I was expecting. I thought there would be a certain amount of Stephen King-ish, “secret history” resolution, given what we learn about the weapons cache early on, and given the shifting history of Manhattan that we see through the killer’s eyes — but that turns out not to be the case. The solution is actually much more rational than that, which is slightly disappointing. But it’s a stylish story and Ellis lays out some very colorful prose.

There are a couple of points that kind of grate, however, and which presumably result from the author being a Londoner. First, referring to urban thoroughfares in general as “roads” is a British-ism; they’re called “streets” in New York City. Second is the use of “a police.” I’m told this is a common singular term among cops in Baltimore, and perhaps it appears elsewhere — but not in New York. The NYPD is made up of “police officers” or “cops.” Ellis also refers throughout the book to the original aboriginal inhabitants of Manhattan as “Native Americans.” I don’t see the average New Yorker, much less the average cop being that carefully politically correct; “Indians” would be by far the more common term. Perhaps it’s my editorial background, but I wish someone at Little, Brown had pointed these things out to him.


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