Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Mulholland Books began life a year ago as Hodder’s imprint for suspense, with (it seems) a tip of the hat to the visual arts (script writers turned novelists showed up early on). Warren Ellis comes from that sort of background, too, being known for his graphic novels, before he turned more traditional with Crooked Little Vein.
Intentionally or not, Ellis’s second thriller has patterns running through it, and his detective John Tallow of the NYPD even brings his superiors to the scene of the crime so that they can see them made apparent.
Following a shoot-out in which a man crazed at losing his apartment kills Tallow’s partner and is shot dead in turn by Tallow, in which stray bullets have blown holes in the corridor walls, Tallow finds himself gazing into an anti-Aladdin’s Cave of illegal weapons. This, though, is not the store of some dealer to the scum of the city (and there is a lot of scum, as well as more dregs, and then all in-between, as Tallow knows because he keeps his police band radio on as he drives, and Warren Ellis lets us know what he is hearing), but the hoard of a killer who has found weapons of grotesque history and then used them again on some apposite target. In turn, once used, those guns have been attached to the walls of this apartment gallery.
The resident never having been seen in the lifetime of his landlord nor the landlord’s father, Tallow returns to the apartment to study the way the guns have been left on the walls and realises that there is a pattern developing, and realises too that there are gaps in it. Those gaps indicate that the killer plans to kill again, validating his weapon to fill its appropriate place. Meanwhile, the struggling city authorities want to empty the crime scene into a warehouse, where information could be lost, Tallow knows, especially as the job has been given to an outsourcing company.
Tallow finds allies in a pair of struggling NYPD crime scene investigators. In the meantime, while he wonders about the missing murderer, the missing murderer is watching him, as Ellis takes us into the head of “the hunter”.
The ultimate motive for the killings is mundane, in which “the hunter” is a sort of just-the-right-gun for hire, with reasons of his own. Warren Ellis’s cynical view of the city, exemplified through the radio broadcasts, like Ed McBain’s brought up to date, comes around when “the hunter” meets the outsourced, rival CSI team late in the novel. Perhaps it is me, but that twist leads me to give Gun Machine a thumbs up.