Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review - Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

Crooked Little Vein
Warren Ellis
eBook Version
300 pages (portrait view)
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 24, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0060723934


If you’re easily offended by rude or ribald language, unconventional sexual fetishes, or buckets of blood* you may want to steer clear of both Crooked Little Vein and this review. Just sayin’… fair warnin’.

Like a violent criminal with a reputation to uphold Crooked Little Vein forced me into a secluded, dark alley and proceeded to cave my head in with the claw end of a one-pound hammer (and silly me enjoyed every second of it.) There’s nothing soft or fuzzy about this debut novel from comic book writer Warren Ellis. On the contrary, it is a blunt force instrument waiting for an audience to beat. And, thankfully, it found me. While prepping for this review (using Google and other implements of mass time annihilation) I conducted a bit of research regarding this novel. It appears that there are only two opinions pertaining to Crooked Little Vein on the Internet. Either the reviewer thoroughly hated it or totally enjoyed it. On a certain level (you know the one – where your parents taught you to be polite and “If you can’t say something nice….”) I can see why some may have disliked it. To paraphrase - Those are not the reviews you’re looking for. There’s a lot of rough, rude, randy, and rash language in Crooked Little Vein, and fetishes that reside a million miles south of main-stream wife-swapping suburbia. In addition, the central character and his beautiful side-kick experience some terribly far-fetched adventures on their way to retrieve a powerful book which contains a secret version of the United States Constitution. The tome is sought after by the White House Chief of Staff who just happens to be a functioning heroin addict with a bottomless checkbook. And he’s willing to pay big money to get the book back. Along the way, the protagonist, down-and-out P.I. Mike McGill, gets into some of the funniest, raciest, counter-cultured situations ever encountered in fiction. In my own twisted assessment all the odd circumstances, bizarre characters, and unusual events are so outlandishly creative that they make this particular work of fiction one of the most remarkable and interesting stories I’ve read in a very long time. Some might call Crooked Little Vein irreverent. Others vulgar. But there’s always room for a story that provides something innovative and curious. And boy, does this deliver. Here’s the strange thing – the principle idea – the detective or P.I. story – is a very old one yet Ellis’ concoction of urban fantasy, unrefined emotion, offensive language, bizarre situations, and out-right crappy luck suffered by the main character and his assistant is enough for me to call this one brilliant piece of neo-noir fiction.

Ellis has a solid grasp of what’s interesting, and cringe-worthy, about the steamy under-belly of America and his sharp, machine-gun style of writing fits this story perfectly. His prose is brutal, honest, tight, and lacks useless frill and decoration. A feat every author should strive to achieve. And although his characters are thrust into some of the strangest situations in modern fiction they are, by far, some of the most emotionally real characters I’ve ever encountered. Their feelings are never hidden, always worn on the sleeve, and they’re by no means afraid to say what they’re thinking or feeling. Surprisingly, beneath the surface of this extraordinary story lies a tender, albeit unorthodox, love story. Perhaps that’s what I found most interesting about the book. It has all the elements of a murder mystery quest, it forces you to realize that there is more to America than baseball, hot dogs and apple pie, and the characters are brutally honest and unexpectedly real. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and if you are one of those readers not easily offended by crude language and bizarre circumstances, or like the works of Richard Kadrey, Carlton Mellick III, or Chuck Palahniuk or agree with the majority of my book-review ratings you’ll probably take pleasure in it, as well.

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Site

Crooked Little Vein Wiki Page

Crooked Little Vein Chapter One

Crooked Little Vein Chapter Sixteen

Entertainment Weekly Review

* Okay, I know, my review has nothing in the way of ribald language, controversial sexual fetishes, or blood and gore and I apologize for that but I’m willing to bet my opening statement got you to read this far… and for those of you that did, here’s the payoff.

Q. Lewd language, fetish, and bloodshed?

A. Fertilizer, cuttlefish, bazooka.

I’ll let you determine which is which…


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