Written by Max Allan Collins — One of America’s leading modern pulp crime authors, Max Allan Collins has been writing Quarry stories since back in 1976. The series began with The Broker, and the most recent one was 2010’s Quarry’s Ex. Now, the hitman hero/anti-hero is back in The Wrong Quarry with a fine piece of jacket illustration by Tyler Jacobsen.
Somewhere along the way Quarry – we never learn his first name – became tired of being a killer for hire, and decided it would be better for what remains of his soul to start putting his deadly skills to better use. Using a secret file stolen from his previous broker, Quarry travels the country tracking hitmen and offering their targets a shot at safety. For good money, of course, Quarry will take out the bagmen and also, where possible, whoever ordered the job.
And so Quarry finds himself in the sleepy Missouri town of Stockwell staking out a killer. Mateski, whose other job is as an antiques dealer, is himself staking out a dance studio. A process of elimination reveals the target to be the flamboyant dance instructor Roger Vale, and the motive for targeting him is revenge.
Stockwell is a small country town and was unimaginatively named after the most powerful family in the area. Candace, the granddaughter of the head of the Stockwell clan, Clarence, has gone missing and Clarence is convinced she is the victim of a sex killer. Despite being openly gay and in a relationship with a man from the next town over, Vale is his prime suspect. Clarence Stockwell has tried to turn the town against Vale, and has hired private detectives to investigate after the police failed to find any clues implicating him. Stockwell is a man who’s used to getting what he wants, and seeing as that hasn’t worked he seems to want old-fashioned justice – an eye for an eye – by another route.
What’s more, it appears he wants Vale to die a painful death. Quarry has recognised a second hitter arriving in town – someone who specialises in torture, and knows how to keep a victim alive in agony for a long time. Just the kind of person, and just the kind of job, that made Quarry want to give up the killing-for-money business in the first place.
So Quarry will have to take out two hitmen and cancel Stockwell’s cheque. That is if he is indeed the man behind Vale’s contract, because in Quarry’s world nothing is as straightforward as it seems.
Set in Reagan era America, the Wrong Quarry is suitably old-fashioned. There are no paranormal complications or neo-noir stylings. Instead Collins delivers a short, if a little slight, story with plenty of twists, vilolence and sex. In a Quarry novel the girls sure do like the bad guys! The small town milieu is very well realised, as is the town’s fear and dependency on the man who controls the jobs and the money. I particularly enjoy the way Collins writes women, including a classic femme fatale.
But then Max Allan Collins is a veteran. Indeed, we have reviewed several of his books and just like the hero of this book, Quarry, Collins always delivers. The Wrong Quarry is another solid effort.
Hard Case Crime/Titan Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars