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Publisher: William Morrow
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Why the hell didn’t we get A-Game Ellis with his prose debut? This is just barely his B-Game.

Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers, and Transmetropolitian, flaws and all, is one of my top five comic series ever. I just wanted to get that out of the way as I might be accused of not liking this novel because I’m too used to Ellis and his writing tics, but that’s a load of crap because there are several writers I desperately love who keep using the same tricks with each book.

The plot is simple, Mike McGill is a burnt-out private detective in New York and admitted shit magnet. For him, a simple adultery case can turn into him witnessing a man doing lewd acts in an Ostrich farm, so he’s really not surprised when Men in Black storm his building and the President’s Chief of Staff hires him on a case to find a document for the government. This document just happens to be the secret Constitution of the United States, bound in the skin of an alien that buggered Benjamin Franklin repeatedly. The Government wants it back because apparently it has magic powers that will restore America to its original values. The Government, basically, wants to Stepford America whether it likes it or not.

So yeah, it starts off weird, and stays weird, but it never really shocks as all the weird stuff is just bizarre sex and wild drugs and no real or new ideas if you’ve read enough people like Hunter S. Thompson. McGill is given a handheld computer that has the details of everyone whoever had their hands on the book*, so he starts off in a place in New York that has an interesting fetish as McGill learns the hard way when he sits down in a theater and a Godzilla movie starts, but it quickly becomes clear that the movie was edited in such a way that it is now Godzilla Does Tokyo, a decidedly XXXX film.

This is where he meets Trix, one of the flattest and shrill characters I have ever seen in prose who is about as hardcore and in your face as Avril Lavigne, and this is where the book starts to fail as she volunteers to join McGill on his case tracking down the lost constitution and getting McGill into the world of kinky sex and fetishism.

It is a very funny novel, and the dialogue often shines, but Good God, it got old fast as Mike and Trix have variations of the same talk and experience over and over again. Mike doesn’t want to join in her fun and doesn’t understand her love of weird experiences. She convinces him to do it and lectures him on how all of this is really and truly mainstream because it’s on the Internet and television, and what’s more mainstream than the World Wide Web and the Boob Tube? Rinse, repeat, and watch me silently begging increasingly dull scenes to end as I struggle valiantly not to yawn so I can finish this for you, dear readers.

It’s being touted as a road trip into the bizarre hidden worlds of America, but besides some truly great writing when they reach Las Vegas, it could have easily been the same destination over and over because descriptions and setting are virtually non-existent(But you know they’re in Texas because they go to a macho Steak House.) and stale. There are several parts of the book where it seems to pause and Ellis describes something happening like it’s a splash page in a comic book. It’s cute at first and actually interesting, but gets old very fast.

As I said earlier, the dialogue and scene settings as McGill gets in over his head do show that Ellis has immense talent, but when every character is weird and supposedly edgy and shocking, you no longer feel any surprise when something weird and funny happens. McGill’s Girl Friday Trix is a huge culprit of this. It shines a huge spot-light on the fact that Ellis is nearing middle-age and trying desperately to identify with the kidz, and man, the government is so WHACK, they won’t let us play our drum’n’ bass music, and blah blah blah, you get the picture. It’s about as edgy as a Carlos Mencia stand-up special with Nickelback playing in the background. It always feels like Ellis just read about the stuff he writes about, but never participated in.

It also weirdly dates itself, the lame West Wing reference at the beginning just the least of this sin. The “Internet is mainstream” argument was popular five years ago, but now in an age where political bloggers are just as widely read, and sometimes moreso, as the newspaper, it just feels like what it is, an old and done argument. Camera’s built into technology is also talked about quite a bit, and even that is old news. Is anyone really surprised that cameras come with nearly every cell phone now? Oh, and a program like Photobucket and Flickr play a major role. Yawn.

I stress again that when Ellis decides to stop trying to be shocking and hip, there is some absolutely wonderful writing, like after Trix tells Mike she could love him after he saved her life from a pimp:

I’ve said I love you when I meant it, and I’ve said I love you when it was the right thing to say, and I’ve said I love you when saying anything else would have hurt someone without reason. And I couldn’t say a word, there in the dark.

Its passages like that elevate the book, but in its need to be hip and shocking, the humanity of it is drowned out, and that is why Warren Ellis’s debut in prose fails. Do I think he has talent to burn? Oh yes. He could be an amazing novelist and blaze trails for other excellent commix book writers like Garth Ennis and Ed Brubaker, but he needs to learn that his bags of tricks and supposed shock aren’t always needed.

5.5. out of 10

*Is it just me or is that a huge plot hole? If the government has files on everyone who ever had possession of the book in a hand-held computer, why did they need a private detective? Why not just bring the wrath of God and Shock and Awe down on the latest owner of it?