I’ve read a lot of books by Max Allan Collins over the years, but for some reason I’d never read any of his novels featuring the hitman Quarry, not even the recent additions to the series published by Hard Case Crime. Maybe that’s because I’m not, as a rule, all that fond of hitman books. Oh, I’ll read one now and then, but I don’t really seek them out.
However, the great small press publisher Perfect Crime Books has just reprinted the first five books in the series (first in publication order, anyway), so this seemed like a good time to give one of them a try. I’m glad I did.
QUARRY, originally published by Berkley as THE BROKER in 1976, is set primarily in a small town in Iowa, and there’s a good reason for that, as Collins explains in an entertaining afterword to the new edition. The narrator, a hitman who uses the name Quarry (that’s not his real name, as he points out), is there to carry out a job, and he does so with his usual efficiency. But something unexpected goes wrong, somebody winds up dead who’s not supposed to, and the criminal Quarry is forced to become a detective in order to figure out what’s going on, otherwise he might wind up dead, too.
Quarry is a fascinating character, and Collins succeeds in making the reader root for a character who really is a bad, bad guy. He does this by making Quarry pretty normal most of the time, with only occasional hints of what he’s capable of, so when his true nature comes out it’s even more effective. Plus the writing is nice and tight and now and then even funny, and it’s very much of its early Seventies times. As usual, crime fiction is one of the very best snapshots of an era you can find.
If you’ve read the later Quarry novels or, like me, haven’t sampled the series at all, you owe it to yourself to go back and read these early entries as well. They’re fine work by one of the field’s most dependable writers. Highly recommended.
(Max Allan Collins is a member of the Top Suspense Group.)