Shotgun Blast from the Past: QUARRY by Max Allan Collins

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Max Allan Collins’ hitman Quarry is a character who is more popular now than he has been since his debut over forty years ago. A few decades after the series ended and later developed a cult following, Hard Case Crime asked him to do one more book, The Last Quarry. That lead to at least five more books, a film, and a Cinemax series to appear in the fall. This has urged Hard Case Crime to bring the five original books back into print, starting with the first, simply titled Quarry.

Collins introduces us to Quarry a few years into his career of killing. Broker, the man who sets up his hits with employers Quarry never knows, has manipulated Quarry into taking a job that includes more than an assassination. After a meeting that leaves the two of them on shaky ground and Quarry with a suitcase of heroin, he’s assigned to do a hit in Port City, Iowa with his his back-up Boyd. The target is atypical and when someone tries to rub out Quarry after the job, he knows he is in something deep. To find out what, he has to break a major rule of the game and find out who hired him.

One thing Collins wanted to do with Quarry was avoid the major cities often used in crime fiction, like New York and Los Angeles, and give it a Midwest setting. He uses his fictional Port City effectively. His bus stop cafes, taverns, suburban ranch houses, and a lounge run by a former Playboy Bunny evoke their own kind of atmosphere while containing as much duplicity and danger as any big city noir trope. They provide a rich underbelly to the often wholesome appearance the Midwest is associated with.

“If you love anti-heroes like Parker and Jack Carter, Quarry’s your tough guy.”

This hypocrisy in the heartland feeds the other other intention of the Quarry series to mix a counter-culture attitude in with the tough-guy one. Boyd, Quarry’s back up, is gay and the only reason Quarry mentions it is that it plays a role in a plot point and Quarry tells the reader he “didn’t want it to sneak up on you.” While this may not seem like a big deal now, think how revolutionary it was in a men’s paperback in the mid-Seventies. There is also a post-Vietnam vibe to the book. Quarry, one of the first vet protagonists from that war, sees little difference between the killing he does for Broker and the the kind he did for his government. One could make the argument that his work is a way of dealing with his experience in the war, but both Collins and Quarry are too hard boiled to tell you that.

This spin is very apparent in Quarry’s dealing with Broker. Much like how Richard Stark heistman Parker’s trouble with the impersonal Syndicate made you side with the anti-hero, Collins makes it more personal, with Quarry struggling with an employer who wants to own him. Part of Quarry’s skill is how he often plays the system he is trapped in to turn on itself.

If you love anti-heroes like Parker and Jack Carter, Quarry’s your tough guy. He gives you a classic hard boiled punch with a Seventies style left you may not see coming. I can’t wait to follow Quarry on his other early jobs.

You can find copies of Quarry on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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