Back in 1976, Max Allan Collins introduced the world to Quarry, a former U.S. Marine Sniper turned professional assassin. Quarry’s a big, tough guy who’s not too hard on the eyes who “saw the error of his ways” at one point and realized how he makes his living might not be on the side of the angels. So he doesn’t kill just anybody these days. To even out the past killings in his life, Quarry now hunts the hunters – providing a service to those who have contracts out on them where, for a fee, he’ll kill the assassin trying to kill them. For a little more, he’ll find out who hired them and remove them as well. So this might not be on the angels side either but it’s a start. Collins wrote about Quarry’s brand of “justice” throughout the seventies and eighties and then put the character away for awhile. Over the past ten years, Hard Case Crime has revived the character and Collins has produced new stories of this bad-ass killer, the latest being The Wrong Quarry which hits bookstores this Tuesday. With a graphic style, it’s obvious that Quarry is as passionate about his work as he is the women that he’s fortunate enough to bed……and there’s equal time for both in this story. The results are an engaging read that you can’t put down but make you wish you might have when the blood and bullets fly.
Before The Wrong Quarry, I had never read a Quarry novel. This was not a problem however as Max does a great job of dropping you into his world and instantly giving you everything you need to know about the character without it feeling forced or disorienting. Our Quarry finds himself in Stockwell, Missouri, hot on the trail of a contractor who’s doing the leg work on a hit. Turns out the target this contractor is scoping out has been accused of killing a teenager – the head cheerleader and prom queen of the local high school in this small town. The target’s a dance instructor who may’ve been wrongfully accused which is probably the reason why the police and private detectives have had no luck pinning the murder on him. Over the course of the tale, Quarry must find out who took out the contract on this dance teacher and possibly remove the problem. But when the main suspect is the cheerleader’s rich, grieving family, is it possible that Quarry’s barking up the wrong tree? Does he in fact have the wrong Quarry? With a possibility that he’s being played by both sides of the equation, Quarry finds that this job is not as open and shut as he thought it was going to be.
The great thing about Max Allan Collins’ writing is that it’s steeped in character. Even though Quarry is a tough bruiser who would be hard to read if you bumped into him a bar (or in an alley behind some garbage cans), he’s very easy to read. His mindset is that of the job but he’s got a bit of softness in him. This softness doesn’t make him weak but instead shows that there’s more to him than just killing. This is beautifully juxtaposed with his methods of opperation both in his job and his extra curricular activities. The first person descriptions of Quarry’s kills are detailed in their percision and their brutality. The vivid descriptions of how he brings men to their death, on multiple occasions throughout the book, paint strong mental pictures that would most likely never make it past a film’s censor board. This can also be said of the sex scenes within the book. While not pornagraphic by any means, the heat of the moment can be felt as Collins goes into great detail on Quarry’s conquests. It’s amazing that he’s able to give the character that much rawness and still make him so relatable. But that’s the great thing about a character like Quarry – the mechanics of the story allow him to be both cold-blooded killer and a hot-blooded detective all in the same book.
The detective element of the tale is what intrigues me most. This past year, I’ve been lucky to read a couple of new books by Max Allan Collins, Seduction of the Innocent and Complex 90 ( co-written with Mickey Spillane). In all three novels, Collins brings us a very different detective in each story. In this book, the detective element is not so forthright. In Quarry’s eyes, he sees deduction skills as just another tool in his arsenal. He’s a killer through and through who just happens to be a detective when he has to be. That’s evident in the fact that he sometimes misses the cues that a more trained detective might not. He’s a man who’s more like a weapon waiting to be fired. A weapon that can sometimes have his judgement impaired by more carnal urges.
The supporting cast of the story does a pretty good job of playing to those urges, whether it’s Jenny Stockwell, the free spirited aunt of the missing cheerleader, or Sally Meadows, the young chipper dance student who may know more than she lets on. Of course Roger Vale, the dance coach, is a complex and interesting character in himself who may satisfy Quarry’s monetary needs. All three characters do a pretty good job keeping Quarry on his toes and guessing on who has the answers to this little game of murder and deceit. The scenes he has with each respectively are the most entertaining of the book.
If you are a fan of gritty, hard boiled storytelling that shows a bit of heart……and every other organ in the human body, you might want to give The Wrong Quarry a try. It’s available January 7th from Hard Case Crime.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!