#12 – Crooked Little Vein

August 26, 2008

While I try to get recommendations from a variety of sources, there’s a few figures in pop culture whose opinions I respect so much that I always take special notice of whatever they’re pushing.  When Kevin Smith says he’s seen the Watchmen adaptation and it’s “fucking astounding”, I lose all doubts over whether the director can pull it off.  I basically watch, read and listen to everything Sarah Slean suggests, like she was Oprah or something.  And when Joss Whedon started his review of Crooked Little Vein with “I think this book ate my soul”, well, I’m kind of obligated to read it.

Warren Ellis is one of the biggest names in comics today, having written many legendary graphic novels.  However, Crooked Little Vein is his first real novel (less patronizingly distinguished by Wikipedia as a “prose novel”).  Having never read any of his comics before I can’t speak to his previous work, but I can say that this is one auspicious start to his career as a prose novelist.  It’s some kind of bizarre modern noir detective story, which falls somewhere between the funniest parts of 8mm and the most unsettling parts of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.  As narrated by Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson’s illegitimate child.

The main character here is Mike McGill, a private eye who’s at first appears so textbook he’s almost a cliché, your standard tough-guy detective voiceover.  This lasts for about five pages before the book suddenly goes completely crazy, and never turns back.  You see, at that point McGill’s first client (the President’s Chief of Staff, with Secret Service in tow) arrives, and explains that McGill is what they call a “shit magnet” – even his simplest case manages to take inexplicable, mind-bending, hilarious turns.  And it’s for this reason that they’ve sought him out to tackle this particular case: finding the secret Second Constitution of the United States, a case that’s already insane to begin with.  Bound in the skin of an alien Ben Franklin killed, and constantly vibrating at the resonant frequency of a human eyeball, the loss of this book is apparently responsible for the decline in American morality and decency in the past few decades, and this administration wants it back.

And so we hit the ground running.  McGill embarks on a cross-country trip through America’s twisted underbelly, chasing the book through its variously twisted owners over the years.  Due to the detective’s shit magnet status, and apparently due to the effect the crazy magic alien book has on people around it, McGill stumbles into one group of fetishists after enough, each freakier than the last.  It’d be almost pornographic if McGill wasn’t so disgusted and irritated by the whole thing.  And the scariest part is, I’m sure that all of the subcultures Ellis explores are real.  If “2 Girls, 1 Cup” is mainstream, God only knows what’s hiding in the corners of the Internet.

I’m not going to say this book is M for Mature or anything – it’s all played for laughs, and it doesn’t have the visceral impact of something like American Psycho, thankfully.  But I will say that it’s pretty shocking at times, in a hilarous way.  I learned some new words and phrases, like “macroherpetophile”, that I can’t ever unlearn.  Beyond that, my only complaint is how rushed the story feels sometimes – often you just feel like Ellis is getting into the swing of a section when suddently it’s over and McGill is halfway across the country in some fresh new hell.  It might be too easy to blame that pacing on Ellis being used to comics as a more visual medium.  But it’s a great ride, and a terrific start, and I’ll look forward to seeing what he comes up with for his next novel.



  1. I read this book over vacation and also found it an amazing read. One of the more interesting points of the book is that all of the stuff McGill goes through is “mainstream” because you can find it on the Internet. I would not necessarily agree that every corner of the Internet is seen by a large number of people, but the idea of things people do that don’t even make it that far is great material for the wandering mind.

  2. Have you ever heard of “Rule 34”? It’s a theory that basically says, anything you can imagine, there’s a fetish and/or porn of it online. And so far I have yet to see an exception to the rule, to my everlasting horror. The Internet is a terrible place sometimes.

    Glad you also liked the book, Brian! I still haven’t checked out Ellis’ comics, have you ever read any of them?

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