Not too startling to see Max Allan Collins popping up on two titles (one a posthumous “collaboration” with his idol Mickey Spillane) as a part of Hard Case Crime’s new re-launch — the man has been a hard-boiled fanboy and a prolific pb pulp craftsman for years now. With Quarry’s Ex, Collins takes us back to the mid-career of his brutal hero, a Vietnam vet and former hitman now hiring himself out to rich targets to kill their would-be killers. In Ex, his client proves to be a low-budget action film director who also turns out to be married to Quarry’s betraying ex-wife Joni.
Taking a cover job as unit publicity manager for Hard Wheels 2, a piece of video store fodder being filmed in Las Vegas, our hero seeks out Nick Varnos, a contractor who specializes in kills that look like accidents. Quarry’s task becomes twofold: figure out how Varnos intents to off director Arthur Stockwell and identify the person responsible for putting out the hit on the director in the first place. The suspect pool includes a variety of dubious movie types (former Playboy centerfold actress, gay “tough guy” movie lead, mob-indebted producer) and, of course, his shapely, duplicitous ex. The only one of this quartet who doesn’t try to seduce Quarry is the producer.
Collins tells his cynical little tale with plenty of tough wit; he especially has fun with his narrator’s take on the dying days of drive-in moviemaking. As a storyteller, Collins has a knack for capturing period with a few succinct details; he also has a pithy way with violence that at times reminds me of Robert Bloch at his nasty punchline best. A while back, reviewing Collins’ first Ms. Tree novel, Deadly Beloved, I criticized the book for not being as dark as the best Hard Case entries. No such plaints with Quarry’s Ex, though — it’s every bit as mean as you want it to be.