Crooked Little Vein,
Crooked Little Vein is the debut prose novel by Warren Ellis, the highly successful Graphic Novelist responsible for Transmetropolitan, Lazarus Churchyard, Global Frequency and many, many, many more. He’s a writer of near and far future fiction, seemingly obsessed with bizarre sexuality, deviant art and technology in equal measure (and presumably so are many of us since we love reading his work – Joe). If you’re familiar with his work then this first paragraph of Crooked Little Vein should be instantly recognisable as Ellis:
“I opened my eyes to see a rat taking a piss in my coffee mug. It was a huge brown bastard; had a body like a turd with legs and beady black eyes full of secret rat knowledge. Making a smug huffling sound, it threw itself from the table to the floor, and scuttled back into the hole in the wall where it had spent the last three months planning new ways to screw me around.”
(one of Warren’s best known creation, the man who proves that “being a bastard works”, Spider Jerusalem, taken from the cover to Lust for Life, art by Darick Robertson, published DC)
And it carries on in exactly the vein (no pun intended) you’d expect for the next 277 pages. Crooked Little Vein is a distillation in prose of many of his comic projects; in fact it’s Warren Ellis writing a novel whilst channelling the voice of Spider Jerusalem. This certainly isn’t a criticism of the book. To moan about him writing a novel in his own style is a little like complaining that Enid Blyton didn’t have enough swearing or gunplay. Anyone who signs up to Warren’s e-mail service will be familiar with the prose style. It’s fast. Very fast. Scattershot. Ideas and scenarios are thrown out in bulk, lines zip by, paragraphs race along, pages are here and gone in the blink of an eye and chapters are mere punctuation, occasionally no more than a couple of lines. The content may well be familiar as well, most of it has cropped up at some point as part of Ellis’ research material he puts up on his various websites – like the very, very bizarre and extremely NSFW eel sex episode.
The plot is a simple, first person detective story and a quest novel. Mike McGill, not so hard boiled private detective, is hired by the corrupt, monkey poo injecting White House Chief-Of-Staff to recover the secret second Constitution of the United States. This is the book that is responsible for keeping the madness and immorality out of America and since it’s been missing the whole country seems to have gone to the dogs, immorality, perversity, deviant everywhere. McGill sets out on a quest across America, tracking down the books previous owners. Hence the title – the Crooked Little Vein is the detective’s shaky and dark progress across the US. This is where the plot does sometimes feel forced. Almost as if Warren had bookmarked a series of strange technology, body modification and deviant porn sites at some point (purely for research you understand) and thought they’d make a good novel if he could just join the dots someday.
Did I like it? Yes, I did. It was a fun, pretty lightweight read. One of those books that take a few days to read at most. And of course, I love most (but not all) of Warren Ellis’ graphic novels (for a perfect example see this double review of Crecy and Doktor Sleepless here on the blog). Will you like it? Depends really. Do you read and enjoy any of Warren Ellis’ comic works? If you do, you’ll enjoy this one as well. If you don’t read his comics it’s a bit more difficult. Try to imagine a mix of James Elroy and Jeff Noon in style and content. Throw in some Shaun Huston style horror and the high speed pacing of a Matthew Reilly. Mix it all up and add in the contents of the Fortean Times and Bizarre magazine.
It’s really an action adventure thriller, laced with near future sci-fi and cutting edge tech, all taking place against a backdrop of the seediest situations Ellis can think of. But despite the minor criticism, I really enjoyed it as a good, fast, funny and well written first novel.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.