Written by Max Allan Collins — As noted in his afterword, since returning to writing his Quarry novels in 2006, author Max Allan Collins has written them out of sequence, jumping around from time to time. This latest novel takes place in the mid-70s, after the events of Quarry’s Deal and before Quarry’s Vote.
For those new to the series – now fourteen novels and one graphic novel – Quarry is an ex-Special Forces Vietnam vet who became a killer for hire after murdering his wife’s lover. He ended up killing the man who found him jobs, known to him as the Broker. Having discovered the list of the Broker’s other assassins, began a lucrative career killing them as well.
Quarry’s method is simple, yet fraught with danger. He picks a name from the list, then puts his target under surveillance. When the killer leaves town to go on a job Quarry follows and once he has discovered the target he makes them an offer. For a fee Quarry will terminate the threat, and if the target can identify who would want them killed, then he will get rid of that person too.
While Quarry has the advantage of surprise, the Broker’s team has the advantage of numbers. It is standard operating procedure for the assassins to work in pairs, one to observe the target and plan the kill while the other carries it out.
So far Quarry has been successful, but when the next killer he picks from the list leaves home and drives to Naperville, Illinois where Quarry lives, he has to wonder if he’s been rumbled. Quarry is quite fortunate to survive his subsequent encounter with the hitman, indeed it is only the fatal intervention of the spotter that saves his skin. Lucille and Quarry had known each other briefly some time back when Quarry had just begun his second career working for the targets. She was his sights for a while, but in the end he didn’t need to kill her and the couple had even had a brief affair.
Together, the pair hatch a plan – they must kill the middle man who brokered the hit on Quarry and then see where they stand. Perhaps they’ll be able to carry on as before or maybe they’ll have to go on the run.
The Quarry series is pulp through and through, and the series forms some of Collins’ best work. He might be better known for Road to Perdition, or as the writer who Mickey Spillane chose as his literary executor, but the Quarry novels are a significant achievement. Their longevity speaks to the cleverness of the underlying concept and is also testament to Collins’ skilled execution.
Killing Quarry is a lean beast at barely 200 pages, with not a word wasted. And yet despite its emphasis an action and drama, Collins is able to make his characters come alive. This novel is more than blood and thunder – though Collins makes sure our genre expectations are met – there is deft characterisation present too. The interaction between Quarry and Lucille as they try to parse each other’s motivations is a particular highlight.
Great fun from start to finish, Killing Quarry shows pulp is in a far healthier state than any of Quarry’s victims.
Hard Case Crime
CFL Rating: 4 Stars