Written by Max Allan Collins — Max Allan Collins, the writer of the original graphic novel The Road to Perdition that became the popular film, has been around for years. He’s written crime novels, comics and movie and TV novelisations. Batman, Dick Tracy, and the PI Nathan Heller series have all borne his signature, and he’s finished off a few Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer books too. Originally published in the 1970s, Hard Case Crime has recently re-issued Collins’ entire Quarry series of novels, coinciding with a television series which will air this year.
The book has a cover illustration by Robert McGinnis befitting of its pulp pedigree, but Hard Case Crime seems to have bought a job lot of these – the same woman having appeared on the re-issue of Ed McBain’s Cut Me In recently.
Quarry, a former marine sniper turned hitman, is a unique character in pulp fiction. In Quarry’s Deal, the third book of the series, our hero has changed career track and now offers his protection to targets culled from a hit list that he lifted from a dead mob broker. In his new role as a hitman who takes out hitmen, Quarry faces the immediate challenge of locating Frank Tree, a successful casino owner whose name is on that list. He learns that the businessman is keeping a low profile and that the assassin assigned to him is actually a woman who is as beautiful as she is deadly. The story is told through Quarry’s perspective, so we learn what calculations come into play as he tries to turn the tables on the contracted hit job. He’s never killed a woman, but this time he may have to.
Quarry stakes out the mysterious blonde, named Lu, where she’s staying at a swinging singles apartment complex in Florida. His plan is to keep tabs on her and somehow reach out to the casino owner without her knowing. Lu remains mysterious, even as Quarry slowly develops a relationship with her. Eventually he follows her openly, all the way to rural Iowa. Frank Tree, has relocated to this empty state and set up a combination dinner theatre and gambling den in a small town, so he can bond with his troubled son and keep an eye on him. Posing as an out-of-work salesman, Quarry is finally able to approach the endangered businessman with his plan. As he checks out Tree’s joint and interacts with its employees (who include the assassin Lu), he suspects she is not working alone and that maybe he himself is being played in a larger game.
When the hit seems immanent, Quarry must get to Tree before he gets whacked, and get paid handsomely in the process, provided he isn’t killed. Collins does a good job of maintaining a dangerous vibe of tension. Even as the countdown to the hit begins, Quarry can’t quite let go of the alluring hit-babe whose philosophising and wry humour make her a kindred spirit he is reluctant to kill.
Collins’ first-person narrative is punctuated by Quarry’s dry characterisations of the bimbos and thugs he deals with as he strategises and negotiates his way around assassin and mark. Quarry’s Deal carries an archaic hardboiled sensibility of violence and misogyny, and on the surface is a diverting throw-back to the classic pulps. Where it misfires is the introduction of subplots involving secondary characters that seem cobbled together as an afterthought and which make the overall story less cohesive. While his characters are two-dimensional, Collins is nonetheless a breezy and entertaining read. If you’re in the mood for a light version of Mack Bolan meets Donald Westlake, Quarry’s Deal comes recommended for your beach outing or the morning commute.
Hard Case Crime
CFL Rating: 3 Stars