A naked old man holding a gun shoots and kills NYPD Detective John Tallow’s partner of five years, and that murder — aside from being devastating and emotionally traumatic for Tallow — leads to the discovery of an apartment full of nothing but guns. Two hundred plus guns, adorning the walls, the floors, all in some mysterious pattern, and each and every one is linked to an unsolved Manhattan murder within the last twenty years. John Tallow is stuck with this career ending case when he should be home grieving for his partner.
I really, really liked this book, even though it was a little bit more violent and bleak than my usual tastes. Also, I say it was bleak, which is technically true, but Ellis is such a good writer it doesn’t even matter. Plus, it’s funny as hell. Tallow himself is a bit of a killjoy, but Ellis’s narration, and his creation of inspired CSU characters Bat and Scarly (who become Tallow’s de facto partners in solving the case), is just fun. He also does something right by letting us inside the mind of the killer, who we meet really early on. Very early on this transforms the central question of the narrative from Who killed all these people? to Who is this man and why does he do these things? Tallow figures it out as we do. The nice thing about Tallow is that the story frames this murder investigation as a wake-up call for Tallow’s psyche, which has been deep underwater for what seems like decades. As the case becomes more complicated, Tallow just gets smarter.
This is almost the perfect crime thriller. It’s super smart. Ellis’s prose is witty and unique, with just the right amount of gore and cynicism, balanced nicely with pure action adrenaline, cool surprises, and humorous banter. He also has a nifty way with thematic undertones. You could read this book as a straight thriller, but he’s also got some stuff to say about memory, history, and violence. He’s also friggin’ obsessed with maps. All the characters you would expect to be here are here, but they’re also a little bit twisted, with just the right amount of character flavor. The result hits all the crime thriller pleasure spots, but also makes you think you’re reading something really unique and sort of revolutionary.
I really had only two complaints about the book. First, Warren Ellis is British. He does a nice job with New York for the most part, but take that statement with a grain of salt. I’ve never been to New York and all I know about it I know from movies and television and super catchy hybrid soul/hip-hop songs. Where it really shows is in the dialogue. Mostly the dialogue was pretty normal, but every once in a while Britishisms would just slip in, particularly when he was writing for Bat and Scarly. My other complaint is that I felt the ending was a bit short-shrifted. It built and built and built with all this lovely tension, and then it just sort of . . . ended. I got the feeling there could be sequels from the way everything in the case was downplayed, like Tallow and Bat and Scarly haven’t seen the last of each other. If that’s the case, I certainly won’t complain.
Also, Warren Ellis kind of scared me before I read this, but I’m going to check his other junk out now because I liked this so much. (I don’t think I’ll ever be reading Crooked Little Vein, though; that just sounds like too somethin’ somethin’ for me.)