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Book Review: Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins

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Max Allan Collins’s cool and deadly professional hit man, Quarry, is back for another serving of mayhem and murder – and this time he’s taking a cut right out of the middle. As the title suggests, Quarry In The Middle takes place in the middle of Quarry’s career, somewhere in the 1980s. Quarry has left the employment of the Broker, the man who first hired him to be a paid assassin. Quarry didn’t leave without a retirement plan, though. He took the Broker’s files and is currently making a living tracking down other hit man and killing them – provided their targets pay for his services.

Once in Haydee’s Port, Illinois, Quarry discovers the small town is divided between two criminal enterprises. Richard Cornell, the owner of the Paddlewheel Casino, is a marked man. As Quarry observes the setup, he believes Jerry G., the owner of the Lucky Devil, has hired the other hitmen in town. Quarry kills both hitmen and goes into business for himself against the odds.

As usual, Collins deals out lethal violence, raw sex, and wisecracks at a blistering pace. Although written in the 21st century, Quarry In The Middle feels like one of the old Gold Medal novels I devoured as a kid. There aren’t many good people in this novel, and the few that are there are trapped by bad circumstance. The atmosphere of the whole tale is gritty and harsh. Quarry is only a hero because he’s better than everyone else in the book, which is what I want in my crime fiction.

Collins also plays fair with the 1980s. As I read along, I picked up on all the songs the author laid down. It’s funny, but the music he mentions tied me into that time frame even more than the story. When Collins mentioned a particular song, the scenes filled up with the memories I had of that time and similar places like the casinos he writes about. The 1980s weren’t as volatile as the 1970s, at least for me, but there were a lot of touchstones anchored by music.

The novel plays out small to a degree, bouncing back and forth between a small cast of characters. It’s like a tight B movie that shows you just enough to keep everything moving and doesn’t hesitate about kicking you in the teeth when you least expect it. I finished the book in a couple of hours, never once had to stop and figure out what was going on, and had a blast tooling around riding shotgun to Quarry.

I don’t know where Collins is going to take Quarry next, and there haven’t been any announcements concerning future books, but I hope this isn’t the end of the series. I enjoy the character and the unrestrained violence, as well as the dark world where Quarry lives.

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