So here’s the thing about Gun Machine: It gives us a protagonist who demonstrates personal responsibility by being kind of a loser. In this way, Gun Machine is not unlike Crooked Little Vein, Ellis’s previous novel (wherein, for some reason, people found themselves injecting salt water into their nutsacs–there’s more to it than this, but this point is not the main point); to backtrack a bit, I read part of Crooked Little Vein on a plane, and I was the only guy laughing his ass off out loud. Ellis doesn’t pull punches, and while he’s not always funny, he keeps characters real.
I’d been looking for another novel from Ellis for quite some time; writing novels is not his regular gig. He was apparently responsible for the script for the film Red, which I actually own a copy of; I didn’t notice Ellis’s name when I watched it . . . Red was a surprisingly good, entertaining shoot-em-up, with an odd cast that included Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman. It’s weird that you’ve never heard of it, but I hadn’t either, until I saw it in one of those going-out-of-business sales at a former Blockbuster.
Have I gone off track enough yet? Gun Machine‘s main character is named Tallow; as names go, this does not promise a whole lot of action; it’s essentially fat (used for candles/soap). Tallow rarely has a first name (John?), and maybe I’m missing something about his last name, but it’s not inspiring; Tallow, by nature and direction, is generally not inspired, but he stumbles upon the case of a lifetime (an apartment plastered with guns, all of which were used in murders), which is exactly what nobody wants. Viola–motivation is found!
Tallow does not get the ladies, nor does he drive a cool car or have sweet karate moves. He does not have a quick draw, and he does not bench press twice his weight; he’s not cool, and whether he’s attractive is not the point. He has avoided lasting relationships, because he will probably get killed; detectives don’t really have home lives. Tallow has a shitty New York apartment, but who doesn’t?
After his partner’s murder (early on–not a spoiler), Tallow is partnered with crime nerds; this appeals to the masses, because the CSI-types Tallow finds himself working with possess just his kind of character: general dysfunction. These two have weird names and live to solve crimes with science; they’re like video game dorks, but work with crime scenes, dead bodies, and criminal habits instead.
The world is imperfect, and Ellis makes this reality endearing, entertaining, and unfortunately brief.