Warren Ellis is a world-renowned, best-selling author of unconventional graphic novels. In Crooked Little Vein, Ellis makes a foray into the world of detective fiction, and the result is a wilder ride than you’re likely to find from even the preeminent novelists of the genre.
Michael McGill, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, was once the anointed detective prodigy at Pinkerton. A twenty-year-old investigative wunderkind, with a future as bright as the sun. That was before McGill made the fateful decision to leave the detective agency and go solo. Now, he’s a burned-out loner who sleeps in his Manhattan office, tormented by a mutant super-rat who could eat a bowlful of rat poison and ask for seconds. Since leaving Pinkerton, his luck couldn’t be worse if he beat thirteen black cats to death with a shattered mirror.
Into this desolate wasteland of a life walks the President’s chief of staff, a man who is more powerful than the Vice-President, and who is rumored to be the President’s puppet master. The heroin-addicted powermonger has a job for McGill: find the Constitution of the United States. Not the version taught in history class, but an alternative document that the Founding Fathers drafted to be used in the event of a national crisis.
Armed with a refreshed bank account and some sketchy intelligence, the detective sets out on a sojourn through hell. On his pilgrimage across the American landscape, McGill is introduced to a group of men who employ a unique (and painful) method of sexual gratification, an underground society of lizard lovers, an elderly serial killer, and a group of California power brokers who challenge the limits of human cruelty.
At times, Crooked Little Vein reads like a fantasy novel as it chronicles one man’s walk through a shadow world of decadence and depravity. Warren Ellis’ attempt at expanding his literary boundaries is a resounding, and disturbing, success. But his fictional netherworld cannot possibly exist.