Reissued to go alongside an upcoming Cinemax teleseries, Max Allan Collins’ Quarry (Hard Case Crime) is the opening volley in an ongoing set of paperback crime novels featuring a hitman anti-hero. Initially debuting in the mid-seventies, Collins’ lead is a Viet Nam vet working as a contract killer for a dubious moneyman known as the Broker.
When his first book opens, “Quarry” (“There are two things you won’t get from me and that’s details about my past and my real name,” he says) is on a job at a Quad Cities airport targeting a phony priest carrying two bags of heroin. That last being something Quarry wants no part of, we know the working relationship between him and the Broker will eventually be heading south, especially after we meet the punky ex-serviceman that Broker has brought along as a companion.
But Quarry accepts another assignment, a hit in a small Iowa river town (“two hills with a downtown in between”) named Port City. Working with a back-up named Boyd, a gay Miles Archer to Quarry’s Sam Spade, they stake out a mark named Albert Leroy, a seeming small-town nobody. When the contract turns messier than planned, Quarry is forced to violate his long-standing rule by seeking out the person who initially hired the hit.
This leads him to the town’s moneyed interests and, of course, a shady buxom dame: a former Playboy bunny running a bar and restaurant on the town’s outskirts who is able to provide info about the town’s crooked underbelly. A Midwestern boy himself, Collins captures his setting with a sniper’s merciless eye and keeps his small-town mystery crisp. Several betrayals and a final confrontation in a rain-drenched quarry (natch) ups the body count and sets up our title lead’s lone wolf status for at least ten more books to come.
Pulpishly brutal and clever, Quarry makes for an addictive introduction to one of crime fiction’s most enduring and engaging hard-boiled sociopaths. Long may this amoral son-of-a-bitch run . . .