Warren Ellis has written some great comics—Transmetropolitan, especially, is a favorite—but I was thoroughly unimpressed with his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, which felt like a bunch of "shocking" scenes fed together into something that, if you squinted, resembled a novel. This was surprising, especially since Freakangels and Transmetropolitan proved that Ellis understood the mechanics of novelistic storytelling.

Turns out, Crooked Little Vein must've just been a rickety test run, because Ellis's second novel, Gun Machine, is a great little scabrous entertainment of a novel. Gun Machine feels like the extended pilot episode of a cop show* that's gone rotten in the back of the fridge. In the course of a disastrous emergency call, a New York City police detective named John Tallow stumbles into a mysterious apartment lined with guns. Further inspection proves that every one of the guns is tied to an unsolved murder. Which means that the world's cleverest serial killer is out there, somewhere, and he knows that the cops were just alerted to his existence.

Gun Machine is a well-written procedural, and it's studded with digressions that don't serve any purpose but to amuse the reader. ("At any given time, there seemed to be at least four bars in the Five Boroughs called the Blarney Stone."). The language is blunt and nasty (sample sentence: "The room was a grimy box.") and evocative. Some of Ellis's most obvious tics are present here—Tallow quickly acquires a pair of sidekicks who speak exactly like Ellis characters, with over-the-top threats and other antisocial barbs in their dialogue—but they don't feel stapled on. This is a dark ride, but it's familiar enough that it never stops feeling comfortable.

* Worryingly, Gun Machine has already been optioned for a TV show. I hope this doesn't mean that future outings from Ellis will get formulaic; his books are always better when there's a sense of danger to them.