Audiobook Review: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

7 02 2013

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

Read by Reg E. Cathey

Hachette Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thought: Gun Machine was truly an eye opener and a great introduction to Warren Ellis. It’s a fast paced battle of wills between complex and well drawn characters. The prose is sharp, full of urban poetry and surprising humor and the plot is full of twists on the genre that will shatter preconceptions.

Grade: A-

I have to admit, before Gun Machine came out, I had no idea who Warren Ellis is. I had never read Crooked Little Vein and was never someone who got into comic books or graphic novels, for reasons I don’t really even understand. So, when Gun Machine came out, and I got all these messages and tweets basically saying, “OMG! A New Warren Ellis Novel” I was all “Oh, Yay!!!!” wft, isn’t Warren Ellis some sort of financial guru guy why would I want to read a book by him. Then I then realized that I was thinking of Warren Buffet, who, often when I hear his name I think wtf, isn’t that the guy who sings Cheeseburger in Paradise, why would I want to take financial advice from him. So, lucky for me I live in the age of Google and Wikipedia, and before I made a total ass out of myself, I could be all “Yeah, Warren Ellis, he wrote that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff” like a friggin’ genius. Then, checking out the audiobook version, I discover Gun Machine was being narrated by Reg E. Cathey. I was all, “You guys, I got to listen to this audiobook. It’s narrated by one of my favorite actors, Reg E. Cathey. I loved him in The Wire and The Corner and in Oz and in various guest spots, and I would pay him like a million dollars to record my voice mail message.” So, then they got their Wikipedia on, and acted excitedly as if they new who he was as well. I told them that he was recording the new Warren Ellis, and they were all “Yeah, he wrote that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff.” So, basically, now I know who Warren Ellis is, and am totally planning on reading that book about those guys and the constitution and stuff.

In Gun Machine, Warren Ellis takes on the gritty streets of crime plagued New York, in his darkly poetic crime fiction tale of a shattered cop taking on a case he should never be working. Stunned by the murder of his partner in a condemned tenement and his killing of the perpetrator, Detective John Tallow is pulled out of administrative leave to look a strange room in that building full of guns, each tied to a specific murder. What he discovers is a strange serial killer, obsessed with the pre-colonial history of New York, and tied to some of the most powerful men in the city. I have to admit, when I began Gun Machine, I was a bit worried. Almost every TV series will have a magical Native American episode, which gets the history wrong, glorifies the misconceptions of Native Americans, and turns them into primal shamans there to teach the white man spiritual lessons. So, as Ellis began to reveal the obsessions of his killer, I was concerned that again we would be walking these ill chartered waters. Instead, Ellis surprised me with a sort of deconstruction of these myths, manipulating us through our own preconceptions. It’s well done, and adds textures and depths to the text. Ellis seems to have a grasp on many of the traditional themes of crime fiction, yet bends them in new and interesting ways, While I don’t think he captures the rhythm and dialogue of the streets as well as some of the big named crime fiction authors like Pelecanos or Lehane, he creates a fascinating mosaic all his own through the use of the police scanners and his character’s observations.  The plot itself has some decent twists along the way, but I felt that the twists, and even the forward progression of the mystery itself, were less important than the journey of the two main characters, John Tallow and the killer. Ellis builds up his antagonist with an almost superhero mystique, then allows us to realize his faults through slow careful reveals. I really loved the John Tallow character. He’s not quite the broken down former hot shot cop trope that fills the genre, but more of a workmanlike unspectacular cop who finds his calling through tragedy. It’s an interesting twist on the theme that plays out well when matched against this particular antagonist. Gun Machine was truly an eye opener and a great introduction to Warren Ellis. It’s a fast paced battle of wills between complex and well drawn characters. The prose is sharp, full of urban poetry and surprising humor and the plot is full of twists on the genre that will shatter preconceptions.

As I said early, the casting of Reg E Cathey was a major reason I gave this audiobook a listen. He has a distinctive, bass filled voice that will stick to your brain. Yet, early on I had concerns. I know Cathey primarily through his roles on television, and tie his voice to his appearance. Cathey is an African American actor, and it took me a while to reconcile my image of him, with the main character of John Tallow, an Irish American cop in New York City. Part of the problem with this is that you are thrown right into the action, and almost all the initial character development comes from the voice of the narrator. Yet, as the story continues, and Ellis began to develop, Cathey and Tallow manages to merge in my mind. Cathey’s skills as an actor, his ability to capture a turn of phrase and give it a unique spin gave Ellis’ prose just the right feel. Despite his distinctive voice, Cathey shows strong range as he takes on each character. His bass rhythms are still there but he manipulates tone and rhythms to give each character its own feel. By the end of audiobook, I was putty in his hands, wanting to continue as he read the epilogues, the disclaimers, the copyright notices, the blurbs, my shopping list, and the small print on a home mortgage. Gun Machine is a great piece of fiction, made even stronger by the edgy performance of a gifted narrator.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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One response

8 02 2013
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

You absolutely write the most entertaining reviews. “oh yeah, the constitution and stuff.”

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