So after a considerable amount of time standing steward on my book shelf (Even the hardback edition is like the size of a small paperback so it’s easy to miss!)—I finally got around to reading Comics writer Warren Ellis’ debut novel “Crooked Little Vein”. Told through the often grime coated lens of a down trodden detective who somehow manages to attract the most obtrusive articles of our society. And with this very ability as the point of interest, Mike McGill is hired by the US Government to track down a mysterious missing part of the US Constitution.
The novel combines the social pace of Jack Kerouac with the lucid flavor of William S Burroughs. Brought to the attention of its readers right on the dust jacket as, “bringing the Noir style kicking and screaming into the 21st Century” it seems to beg for attention. But is this self- proclaimed update to the Moody Pulp Detective the change we’ve all been looking for, or is it merely drawing from a well of piss and vinegar? How about following me down this Crooked, Little Rabbit hole?
Have you ever looked at a book’s cover, and thought to yourself “well they got me pegged,” only to crack the book open and discover you aren’t the audience the book is going for? In a nutshell that was my experience with Crooked Little Vein. That’s not to say it’s a bad novel. It was just the very things that made me pick it up in the first place (and get excited rediscovering it on my shelf) was the exact thing that made the experience less than rewarding. What I mean is, having been exposed to a good deal of the underbelly of American subculture , the “shocking and weird” didn’t come across as all that shocking and weird—and I often found myself a little annoyed with the main protagonist. There were times that I found myself “sighing” and shaking my head at the way the protagonist handled himself—especially being a guy who is supposedly having the worst type of things happening to him on a constant basis. But even given that, it wasn’t a bad story. In fact it’s a well crafted tour of America, that works on many levels. I just know that I wasn’t the audience for this book.
Crooked Little Vein, tells the story of Michael McGill a Queen’s ex-pat living in New York’s lower east side. Quite a cynical man, with a affinity for the worst of human nature. He is a self-described “Shit Maganet” as though he’s always staring down the barrel of the most perverse of the human condition. It’s not to far after were introduced to this poor sod, that the Presidential Chief of Staff happens on his doorway to offer him the gig of a lifetime—to find a book, the Alternative US Constitution. This particular bit is framed around the drug and perverse ramblings of the man who serves under the President of the United States. After getting a massive check for an operation budget and a small computer that seems more than a little inspired by a Casio Palmtop (circa Edward Furlong in Terminator 2)—he’s sent on his quest. But not before randomly bumping into his co-conspirator/love interest Trix, a university student doing a term paper on American fetishism. And away they go dipping into the very bowels of American Culture.
Through this tour of America’s heartland we see BDSM culture, the marvels of technology, heavy drug use, Reptilian yiffing cos-players, CBT, and a host of other such nuggets of steamy and seedy fetishism. Of course through this mystery filled with shocking ‘depravity’ we are shown a clear motive from Ellis to speak about freedom of expression. We find out very early on this book he’s seeking to find is a tool to brainwash the masses into a puritan state of being. The idea for this book is to make America return to ‘One Nation Under god’ and get away from all this expression, and closet one’s desires with rusty nails.
And that sounds like the perfect recipe for a fun story. It is two parts exploration of humanity, with one part political inquest. You have a man confronting many things he’d never dream of witnessing let alone take a part in. He can learn about himself and his own desires all the while trying his best to stop the brainwashing of Americans. And as he goes on this journey his relationship with his love interest Trix has all the ups and downs of any new romance. At least that’s what I thought to going in. IT would be really neat to see one man’s journey into all of this.
Unfortunately, he never really goes on that journey. He is very much against everything he sees. HE is close minded, and instead of looking at these things as a man with a freedom as the story portends he completely recoils and sarcastically belittles everyone else and their freedoms. He snaps back at any thing outside his own subset of beliefs. And he constantly makes the reader feel like they should laugh at his half hearted jokes. Its only the last part of the book, that Trix appears to see his callousness and confronts him at his close mind. And not until its all over does he admit that maybe all these things aren’t the bane of humanity.
I don’t believe for a moment however that this is the reaction everyone would take from reading this book. There are many great parts of this book. The romance between Trix and Mike is rather fun and thoughtful and is a real joy to read. The friends and people they encounter are truly interesting and people you might want to grab a pint with. Crooked Little Vein glows with humanity, a truth of the human spirit—that goes far beyond our narrator. But that’s really the issue I had. It felt that the narrator rained in on all the best aspects of this novel and let a sour taste in my mouth.
All in all, I could definitely recommend this book. Not to people like me, with a strong experience with subcultures and fetishisms, but for people with a very strong idea of how how they feel about these things. I’d also recommend this book to people who do enjoy individual freedoms whether you agree with them or not. I’d also say if you like Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitian comics to give this a go, you will probably love this book. All in, it’s a great debut novel by a wonderful writer. Its just not written for people like me.