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Literature / Crooked Little Vein

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I opened my eyes to see the rat taking a piss in my coffee mug. It was a huge brown bastard; had a body like a turd with legs and beady black eyes full of secret rat knowledge.
Michael McGill's first two sentences, setting the mood for the novel.

Crooked Little Vein is the first novel by Warren Ellis, published in 2007.

Michael McGill, a burned-out Private Detective is hired by a corrupt and heroin-addicted White House Chief of Staff to find a second "secret" United States Constitution, which had been lost in a brothel by Richard Nixon. What follows is a scavenger hunt across America, exposing its weirder side along the way. McGill is joined by surreal college student side-kick and eventual lover, Trix, who is writing a thesis on sexual fetishes although the true reason why she followed him is that she desired McGill.


  • Alien Autopsy: The secret constitution is written on alien skin harvested from a crashed visitor. It's implied that this is what gives it its more powerful properties.
  • Author Tract: Ellis has a tendency to let his characters be mouthpieces for his views, especially regarding the Internet. This doesn't lower the entertainment value, and it is lampshaded when characters are unexpectedly monologuing about certain topics:
    McGill: "Now holllld on. A seventy-year-old serial killer is gonna lecture me on the intynets."
  • Eagleland: The novel is a satire on all aspects of American culture. As Warren Ellis is British, he has a natural outsider perspective.
  • Ethical Slut: How Trix lives her life.
  • First-Person Perspective: The book is written from McGill's perspective.
  • First-Person Smartass: The novel features a main character who tells the story from the first person and is most definitely a smartass, but subverts the rest of the trope by... well, being a typical Ellis protagonist, really.
    "I don't have a secretary. Sometimes I flip on a phone voice-changer I got for five bucks on eBay and pretend to be my own secretary. It is very sad."
  • 555: When told to call (555) 555-5555 for help, Mike demonstrates his detective skills by pointing out that the number won't work, as it's only used by Hollywood. To which the Chief of Staff responds, "We gave it to them. It works for us."
  • Government Conspiracy: There is a secret constitution only the top government knows. It was lost in The '50s and the Chief of Staff wants it recovered to use its supposed Mind Control powers to restore America morally.
  • Groin Attack: In a way: At one point McGill lets fetishists inject his testicles with salt water, which inflates them to gigantic size. He is not happy about it, despite it being apparently painless.
  • Happily Ever After: Fittingly, it is downplayed:
    But we did okay.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: The Chief of Staff, despite him being a pervert himself in his private life.
  • Hulk Speak: The aptly-named Muppet in Las Vegas speaks entirely in this.
  • Mind Control: The secret constitution is supposed to be able to influence people who are listening to it being read in the same room. It is explicitly stated that transmission via mass media does not work.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: The protagonist's love interest is bi and poly. He jokes that he doesn't have a problem with her having sex with other women, but wants to be her only man. In the end, he gives in, saying she can sleep with anyone she wants, as long as she comes home to him. And damn if she's open-minded. She gives the protagonist a lecture about healthy bestiality relationships at one point, when he dares to be offended.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: How Mike sees most of the people he comes across. Even his ex-girlfriend, whose current lover makes "strap-ons shaped like dolphin penises". By the rest of the book's standards, that one's pretty tame.
  • One-Paragraph Chapter: An early chapter is a mere two sentences long.
    An hour later, I walked into some freak bar on Bleeker Street and yelled, "I'm buying a hundred drinks - for me!"
    Oh, they beat the shit out of me.
  • Party Scheduling Gambit: At the climax, Mike arranges for the Chief of Staff to collect the Macguffin in the same building where a child sex party is occurring, as they bought the book. And then he has the cops show up and arrest everyone present, Chief of Staff included.
  • Polyamory: Trix had in the beginning of the novel three girlfriends and two boyfriends.
    Trix: "Polyamory doesn't mean I'm a slut. It just means I have a lot of love to give and I want a lot of people in my life."
  • Private Detective
  • Recycled Script: If you were a member of Ellis's "Bad Signal" mailing list in the 2000s, there are a number of parts of both this novel and his Doktor Sleepless that will seem immediately familiar. The "heroin rant" by the unnamed Chief of Staff early in the novel appeared almost verbatim on the Signal maybe eight years before the novel was announced.
  • Serial Killer: McGill has a pleasant chat with one on a plane.
  • Shown Their Work: The book was based on research material posted on Ellis' website, mostly odd news items and disturbing pictures from the Internet that Ellis had found or had been sent.
  • Title Drop: In a conversation with another detective:
    Falconer: "You look weary. A traveling man?"
    McGill: "You could say that. New York, Columbus, San Antonio, Vegas. On to L.A."
    Falconer: "What a crooked little vein you travel."
  • Vagina Dentata: The novel features a variant of this trope when the protagonist stumbles into a conversation with a demented fellow mystery explorer that mentions a homicide by Anal Dentata. Yeah, the book is kind of like that. Warren Ellis is kind of like that.
  • Weirdness Magnet: McGill, although considering the kind of weirdness he attracts, he calls it 'shit-magnet'.