It is impossible to make the following point too early in this review: Crooked Little Vein, the debut novel from legendary comics author Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Desolation Jones), is not for the faint of heart. It cannot be responsibly recommended to those who are prudish or in any way upset by engorged genitalia. Fans of the Bush administration are cautioned, as is just about everyone's mother.
Yet another caveat: Fans coming to the book from a heavy comics background may be disappointed by the fact that there's nothing particularly revolutionary here. Crooked Little Vein is surprisingly funny (with shades of Lamb author Christopher Moore) and crammed with more dodgy material than a package of nonkosher franks. But at heart, it's simply a hard-boiled detective novel, in which Ellis nails every trope in the canon.
Our hero, Mike McGill, is a sallow shell of a PI, short on cash and no stranger to trouble. A self-described ''s--- magnet,'' he's the kind of guy who strikes up a conversation with the man next to him, only to discover the dude's an infamous serial killer. Mike's adversary is, naturally, a shadowy figure with questionable motives: the president's chief of staff, who employs Mike to retrieve the only copy of a secret, alternative U.S. Constitution, which has been bouncing around a seriously eccentric underground circle. If the unnamed political operative is to be believed, the very fate of civilized society hangs on its recovery.
As his traveling companion and love interest, Mike enlists a sassy broad named Trix, who may not be entirely trustworthy; their relationship is that clichéd union of train-wreck guy and supremely competent woman whose attraction is never fully believable from a practical standpoint, but provides some splendid wisecracks and plenty of emotional investment. And as with just about anything hard-boiled, when the book's inevitable Big Thematic Statement emerges, Ellis shoves it in our faces with all the subtlety of Godzilla porn.
It should go without saying that ''Godzilla porn'' has not been mentioned at random. Despite a nearly two-decade career scraping society's underbelly, Ellis continues to revel in his party chest of perversities, and his first foray into straight prose reads like a collection of images he's stored up for years, deeming them too grotesque to illustrate. Either you'll be fascinated, or you'll be annoyed. It's a personal matter, much like sexual proclivities in general. But if Ellis could just ease up a smidge on the is I shocking you? pedal, he's got a bright future outside of the picture books. Vein is a perfectly acceptable addition to any slightly sadistic beach bag. Or fetish-parlor waiting room. Or tantric ostrich party. Can I stop thinking about this stuff now? B