Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Gun Machine

17 February 2013 by Nicholas in Books

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis is his second novel. It revolves around a detective who uncovers a room full of hundreds of guns linked to unsolved crimes and an overreaching conspiracy hinging on their use. It’s already been optioned as a TV Series, which it is a brilliant premise for. What it is not, sadly, is a great story in its own right.

There is a great premise here (enough for a series of novels, really), and some engaging characters (although there always feels to be a degree of repetition to Ellis’ characters), but there isn’t enough plot.

The problem with a lot of thrillers is that they believe their plot should be terse and lean. This means a lack of red herrings, dead ends or superfluous characters. This leads to the entire plot hinging on a ridiculous coincidence that utterly undermines the story. There is precious little detection on the part of the detective and the guilty party is introduced early on and easily recognised just by the fact they serve no other purpose in the overall story.

There is another problem as well: the tenant of the room with all the guns in isn’t really fleshed out and Ellis cheats to leave him as essentially a cypher and relatively mysterious. It’s akin to a clumsier version of Hitchcock’s Rebecca where someone yells “redacted” or there is a bleep every time someone mentions the new wife’s name.

I wanted to love Gun Machine. It opens so well, the characters are funny and the events relatively horrific. I’m sure that the level of unsolved crimes has been researched and the basic premise is great. I can even believe the initial coincidences that set the plot in motion. But it doesn’t work as a thriller or a detective story. As anything other than a dark comedy (without enough jokes) or a character piece (without enough character interaction or development) it fails. The lack of characters means that the culprit is obvious. And the climax is incredibly lazy, something you’d expect from a tv show long since devolved into lazy formula.