Published by Harper Perennial in 2007, Crooked Little Vein marks comic legend Warren Ellis‘ first foray into the world of books.
If you have ever read any of Ellis’ work (we have reviewed Scars and Desolation Jones here on Living With a Nerd), then the storyline of Crooked Little Vein shouldn’t surprise you at all: Private investigator Michael McGill is in a dead-end rut, until some weird guy shows up at his decrepit office (based on the description, I pictured the weird guy as looking like the G man from Half-Life 2.) Offering a huge amount of money, the weird guy informs Michael that an alternate version of the United States Constitution exists…one with very strange powers over those within earshot of it. Armed with his wits, a huge expense account, and a smartphone, McGill sets out in search of the strange artifact. Along the way, he encounters perversions of all sorts and meets some really messed up people. That’s about as specific as I can be without ruining the experience for you.
Warren Ellis is an extremely talented writer (as evidenced by his vast bibligoraphy), so it isn’t too surprising that he eventually made the leap into “real” books. The storyline takes a few interesting twists and turns, but like most everything Ellis has a hand in, it’s the characters that make Crooked Little Vein shine. With the exception of a few main people, you don’t really get to know anyone beneath the shell they present, at least not directly. This works out just fine, though…Ellis manages to paint an entire picture of a person in the space of a few paragraphs, so the short wordspace dedicated to each of the people McGill meets is sufficient. Everything you need to know about someone in this book can be gleaned from the first few sentences they speak. Some have said this gives the characters nothing more than “stock status”, although I believe that it helps prevent the book from being artificially drawn out. The characters that should be given depth and development are allotted sufficient time, so this criticism rings empty to me.
As usual, Ellis’ mastery of the English language is present throughout the book. Conversations flow naturally, and Ellis’ descriptions are brief but informative. I was able to easily picture all of the locations the story took place in…considering some of the chapters are only a page in length and the duration of each environment can be as low as a few pages, this is quite an achievement. Ellis’ signature humor and questionable taste make appearances from cover to cover, not only providing service to his fans but also introducing new readers to his style.
I know it doesn’t seem like this review is going to finish off with this sort of declaration, but it’s going to: Crooked Little Vein is like a far more coherent version of Naked Lunch for a new generation, minus the heavy drug abuse by the main character. Extremely odd sexual acts are strewn throughout the novel, nearly the entire story is spent traveling, clever one-liners show up everywhere, and the writing style is quite unlike anything you have read before. While it isn’t as sexually graphic or nearly as hard to follow as Naked Lunch, Crooked Little Vein is most definitely not for the kiddies.
Warren Ellis either currently is or was working on another novel titled “Listener”, although I haven’t been able to locate any information about it aside from that post on his website. Much as I love Ellis’ work with comic books and graphic novels, I really hope he returns to the world of written novels soon. Pick up a copy of Crooked Little Vein ASAP…this one deserves a permanent spot on your bookshelf.