Lonely, burned-out, never-was NYPD detective John Tallow starts Gun Machine with a bad day that quickly gets worse. The violent events of the first few pages open a door into a secret Manhattan world of murder and weird maps. And guns. Lots of guns. Hundreds of guns from flintlocks to modern, near-metal-less handguns. An otherwise empty apartment filled with guns arranged into a mysterious, incomplete pattern. And every gun attached to either an unsolved murder or a murder now known to be incorrectly solved.
Tallow's detective instincts get jump-started by this room of mystery, especially after the case is dumped on him because the NYPD not-so-secretly wants Tallow to fail and the cases to vanish as quickly as possible. A bad detective gets born again, though that rebirth may be short-lived. Conspiracies of power don't want the secret of the guns solved.
Ellis' prose is as pungent and cynical as ever, densely packed with information. The plot rockets along. Tallow and the other characters are sharply drawn. Sharply drawn, too, is our attention to the secret maps of Manhattan which Tallow discovers. A financial map based on the time it takes for financial offices to communicate with Wall Street. A map of gun crimes in Manhattan and the other boroughs. And the map the killer carries in his head, of Manhattan before Europeans came, a map that still surfaces in surprising places in the postmodern landscape.
It's a dark romp that engages with social and technological questions as it zips along, dialogue crackling and sparking, the narrative casting a cold eye on the modes of NYPD evidence collection, the surveillance state, the technical specifications of guns used in famous murders, the difficulty of parking in New York, the meaning of Occupy Wall Street, the malign rise of private policing, the dangers of too much exercise, an assortment of Native American tribes and rituals, and the politics of the police bureaucracy.
Gun Machine is too densely packed to make a great movie, but it would make one hell of an HBO miniseries. Highly recommended.