Tag Archives: Max Allan Collins

“The Wrong Quarry” Review

Cover Image of The Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins

The Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins

The Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins was my first experience with the enigmatic character “Quarry”, a hitman of hitmen as it were. I’ll commence with a disclaimer: I’ve never read any of the other Quarry novels, so I can’t fairly place it in relation to the others or speak to any backstory I may have missed. This review is purely my understanding and opinion of this novel as it stands, alone. Disclaimer aside, I didn’t really care for the book.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of Max Allan Collins, and I greatly respect and admire his work. My problem with this book wasn’t with the plot, the pacing, or even subject matter. I simply don’t like Quarry.

As an anti-hero, I understand that he is flawed (he’s supposed to be). Simply, he’s a loner with a penchant for women who kills for money. But that doesn’t mean he’s likable.

Quarry has severed ties with someone called ‘the broker’– a middle man between hitmen and the individuals who pay for their unique services (I assume this happened in a previous book so sorry for the spoiler).  As a part of this ‘severance package’, he obtained the real names and addresses of all the hitmen then working for the broker at that time. He now uses this list to track hitmen and determine who their targets are before they kill. Quarry then approaches these unsuspecting targets and offers them his services: ten thousand dollars to ‘remove the threat’– and an additional ten thousand to determine the source of the contract and kill them as well. As far as hooks go, this one is dynamite. So why wasn’t I satisfied?

One reviewer said: “I rank the Quarry novels with Westlake’s Parker novels. The two series and characters share a few similarities of a lone criminal. The most important difference between Parker and Quarry is that Parker is not human.” — if this is true, then Quarry’s humanity is what made me hate him. But I disagree. Parker and Quarry are similar only in their operating preference: alone. Beyond that, Parker is a sonuvabitch and Quarry is a horndog with a heart.

Internally, Quarry instantly objectifies every female character in the book, but he wears the facade of someone who genuinely cares for those around him. Perhaps it’s this two-faced nature that peeved me. Additionally, he won’t stop talking to the reader– I understand that he’s the narrator but it drives me nuts when he interrupts a thought to remind me that he’s chatting with me or to make a wry joke of a situation. The book has some wonderful surprises, twists, and turns, but it was like being stuck at the movies next to an annoying acquaintance–  and that acquaintance happens to also be the star of the film.

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

The noir definition line up (anyone sick of this? or should I keep at it?) :

1) The Seedy Underworld

A small town in Missouri; run down bars, big-sky hikes, a highschool parent-teacher night, and a dance studio filled with pageant-bound girls.

2) The Anti-Hero

Quarry. Everything I’ve already said. (appended: he’s an ex-sniper).

3) The Femme Fatale

Two femme fatales in The Wrong Quarry: Jenny Stockwell and Sally Meadows. The former a mid-aged wild-child heiress who survived her riotous adolescence, the latter a teenage nymphet dancer with an eye for trouble. Both put the screws on Quarry, exposing him to greater risk throughout the novel.

4) Misogyny

I can’t imagine reading this book as a woman and not being offended. Every female character is a sad regurgitation of a man’s desire; each carefully shaped to look and pander to a predominantly male readership. Sadly, the holy grail of noir crime fiction is for a male author to create a convincing female character. I don’t know that it’s happened very often in the history of the genre, and it certainly didn’t happen in The Wrong Quarry.

5) Redemption

Much of the novel revolves around the disappearance and likely murder of Candy Stockwell (Jenny’s niece and Sally’s best friend)– the powerful Stockwell family is desperate for resolution. Thus the redemptive theme is present, but not through the protagonist.

6) The Loss of Innocence

Candy and Sally are representations of the lost innocence of youth in modern society– children eager to participate in the adult world, who quickly become stained by the sins of maturity.

7) Smoke

Ever present in the lips of each femme fatale, a smoldering cigarette tribute to former authors and film-makers in the noir art.

8 ) Emasculation

Roger Vale, a homosexual dance instructor in east central Missouri, is the sole threat to Quarry’s masculinity. His role is that of the effeminate victim, the emasculated shell of a threat, now victim of prejudice and violence. Yet, his overly flamboyant mannerisms serve as a smokescreen to a much more complex psyche. Mr. Vale is the unknown; the bizarre hermaphroditic anomaly that portends danger.

I’ve loved a lot of Mr. Collins novels, but this wasn’t one of them. I may give the other Quarry yarns a look, but if the character has the same irking veneer I’ll skip him in the future.

1 Comment

Filed under Noir Crime Fiction

Noir Crime Fiction | Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Noir Crime Fiction Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Kefauver held up a copy of a Suspense Crime Stories comic book whose cover depicted a terrified woman in mid-air, having fallen from a window where the silhouetted hands of her assailant could still be seen in push mode. The woman was screaming, staring wide-eyed at us as she looked through us at the oncoming (off-camera) pavement. Terror-struck, screaming or not, she was very attractive, in a skimpy night-gown, that showed off her shapely legs and, of course, her…headlights.

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins is a sexy addition to the Hard Case Crime catalog. Glen Orbik greets us at the door, a pin-up darling tediously composed and falling out (in more ways than one) of a shadowy high-rise; the black palms of her killer splayed in the windows above. She’s only a moment from impact, and so are we. I love Max’s work, and devoured this pulpy meal in a handful of hours. His prose style is always inviting, but some of the tastiest bits within belong to the great Terry Beatty, who lends thematic comic-strip intros to each chapter. At its core, Seduction is a fabulous mixed-media approach to noir crime fiction.

The tale follows Jack Starr, a stake-holder in the comics syndicate in the mid ’50s, as a respected child-psychiatrist named Dr. Werner Frederick leads the witch hunt against the comics industry. Convinced that comic books are causing destructive behaviors in America’s youth, Dr. Frederick releases a book of research sure to destroy the literary medium. However, the good doctor has underestimated the stakes of such a vendetta, and the  desperation of the enemies he’s creating…

Seduction of the Innocent vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

New York City in the mid ’50s. Pre-Mad Men but post-McCarthyism (nearing the tale-end of it anyway). It’s a setting ruled by gents and dames, and bucks under the pressures of mass media. The labor pains of widespread television and easier access to information causing the bad guys to hide in plain sight.

2) The Anti-Hero

Jack Starr is a wise-ass with a private investigators license. He got it primarily for background checking the writers, artists, and other key-players he and his step-mother contract with, but lately its had other uses. Jack is constantly on clean-up, dealing with messes and defusing scandal. Ladies love him, but his charm gets him into as much trouble as not– he’s our suspiciously confident anti-hero.

“She’s a woman. And you’re a charming devil.”

3) The Femme Fatale

Two dames make a play for femme fatale, Dr. Sylvia Winters and Lyla Lamont, but Lyla is much more convincing. The former is a young psychologist, quickly falling for Jack (who is initially pumping her for information). And the latter is a curvaceous comic book artist, noted for her naturalist tendency to pose nude for her own work. Neither of the women put Jack’s life in danger, but they definitely increase the pressure. Max’s flirtacious dialogue is a breezy counterpoint to the hardboiled scenario and had me cracking grins throughout.

4) Misogyny

Pacing the modern trend in noir crime fiction, Max keeps the text relatively free of lady-hating. The only argument you’ll get from me is a repeat (you’ve likely heard it before): all of the women are male defined. They’re curvy, pin-up worthy, vixens who play sexual mind games with our lead man Jack. The female characters, though at various extremes of this, are largely one-dimensional as a result. The one gal who appears to be self-actualized is Maggie Starr (Jack’s stepmother) who has become a manipulative and shrewd business woman. But, she didn’t get there without being a strip-tease artist first…

In that glance, however, I noticed that she was smiling– blood trickling from the corner of her mouth down her cheek, but smiling as two men fought over her in a stairwell. There was something evil about it.

5) Redemption

As you’d expect, the book reads like a redemption narrative for the comic book industry, yet it’s ripe with characters who seem to counter this end. We meet a dozen or so suspects with powerful motives for murder, and each are stained with enough strangeness to dispel all faith in their innocence. I was amused to see the thematic hypocrisy and satyric layers played with in Seduction. For how can we believe that the comic book industry is not harmful to juveniles when the people at the helm of the behemoth are untrustworthy psychos with violent proclivities?

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

6) Eroticism

Lyla Lamont, Chapter 8. Textbook eroticism from a master noir author. The dialogue is near perfect, timing flawless, and the imagery an enticing delight. SPOILER*Jack Starr wakes on her couch, Lyla playing nurse sans uniform.*SPOILER From beginning to end, its a incredibly provocative scene in the spirit of the greats; Hammett, Chandler, and Cain.

7) The Loss of Innocence

Seduction is a study of the loss of innocence as a whole. As children throughout the country become perpetrators of increasingly violent and horrendous crimes, society seeks a scapegoat. Comic books today, television tomorrow, and video games beyond. This thematic mourning of the loss of innocence is the cream filling of the novel.

“I had a twelve-year-old boy here tell me he admired ‘tough guys.’ I asked him, what’s a tough guy? And he replied, ‘A tough guy is a man who slaps a girl.”

8 ) Smoke

Smoke is tenderly observed throughout the book. It occupies the now-banned locales it formerly graced; offices, restaurants, and any other seedy haunt you can remember.

9) Emasculation

I have to return to Chapter 8 (see Eroticism, above): Jack Starr honors the legacy of the white-male loners before him (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer) and retains his masculinity from a female aggressor. Conversely, although pinned beneath the painted thumbnail of his luscious stepmother, for the most part he is a free-thinking independent; content with Maggie’s rule because in business she’s essentially a gent, and there’s no shame in working for a good boss.

The odor that always greeted you upon entering Bardwell’s domain, however, was something unique, if peculiarly so, even in this city of smells good, bad, indifferent. This was the middle one. Part of it was cigars. Another part was perspiration. But the secret ingredient, as the ad boys put it, was monkey shit.

The novel is a fast read, hedged by a bevy of hilarious characters and culminating in a delicious ‘whodunit.’ I loved the pacing, and am grateful that Max has given us another classy peak into our own bizarre history. Get a copy for your shelf. 

Terry Beatty Seduction of the Innocent

A page from Terry Beatty (via herocomplex.latimes.com)

1 Comment

Filed under Noir Crime Fiction

Noir Crime Fiction | Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins (cover)

Target Lancer is a new Nate Heller novel set to release on November 27th of this year. When Mr. Collins contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing it, I almost passed out because the excitement that exploded in my guts flattened my brain to the top of my skull. Now that I’ve recovered and read the novel, I’m eager to give you a sneak peek at the wonderful contents. This review, unlike nearly all of my others, will be as spoiler free as possible.

Nate Heller, aging ‘private eye to the stars’ and director of the prestigious A-1 Detective Agency, is embroiled in a high-profile assassination plot. The target: Lancer, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The catch: the stage is Chicago, not Dallas, and it’s a month prior to November 22nd, 1963.

The book is filled with some of the biggest historical actors of the era; Names like Hoffa, Monroe, Hoover, Rand, Giancana, and Kennedy. I was impressed with Max’s confident (and daring) take on these characters where most authors would be afraid to risk a portrayal that might seem phony. His treatment of the era and these big name individuals actually had the opposite effect. Each of them seemed very genuine and most meticulous in their presentation. I could tell instantly that Max had spent countless hours researching and tapping into not only the stories surrounding them, but the personalities that would create such stories. Target Lancer is as much a work of historical fiction as it is a crime thriller, and when the genres collide under Max’s direction the results are quite sexy.

“You gotta stand for a frisk.”

“I’m not armed.”

“Rules is rules.”

Before I let him pat me down, I gave him my damp raincoat and hat to dispose of, just out of general disrespect, thinking this would have been an excellent time to shoot him, if that was why I was here.

A work of noir crime fiction by noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting of Target Lancer is primarily Chicago– gangland skin-joints, ethnic delis, and a private box at “da Bears” game. Heller does take a dip down to Miami for a clandestine meeting with “The Outfit”–you won’t want to miss it.

2) The Anti-Hero

Nate Heller is our anti-hero. He’s a little older, a little slower, but perhaps wiser than his younger self (at least he’s less compulsive, right?). Heller is connected across the continent, from the slimiest saps to the most high profile stars, and he’s become a dealer in secrets. I really enjoy reading Nate, he’s a unique narrator that gives you the unfiltered scoop, even when it makes him look bad. Half the time he’s about to die he’s cracking-wise about it, reminding you that its just as ridiculous as you think it is.

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

3) The Femme Fatale

Helen Beck aka Sally Rand is the femme fatale of Target Lancer, and her addition to the story has a humanizing effect on Nate’s character. She’s an aging burlesque star, known for her famous nude fan-dance at the ’33 World’s Fair, coping with the complications that come from growing old in a vocation that’s based on your looks. Her and Nate have a deep connection, a romance that isn’t exactly fatal, but it gives Nate something to lose.

4) Misogyny

The brand of noir misogyny you’ll find in the pages of Target Lancer is the best kind. It’s misogyny that the anti-hero hates but the supporting cast adopts. Nate’s a gentlemen and a respecter of women, even though he’s a bit of a playboy– but the world that he lives in is still caught in the spiral of objectification, sexual transaction, and gender inequality. If Mad Men is representative of the 1960’s, then Nate Heller is Don Draper with a conscience.

5) Redemption

Nate likes defeat even less than he likes being used, and when a client is killed under suspicious circumstances, he makes the game personal. Target Lancer is loaded with intellectual redemption of classic noir faire, but Nate also has plenty of opportunities to save his own skin; Working with the mob isn’t easy.

6) Eroticism

I felt that the eroticism in the novel was primarily that of ‘the tease.’ Several scenes occur in reputable and disreputable strip-clubs, and Nate’s main squeeze is a veteran fan-dancer… connect the dots- there’s memorable provocative and erotic moments in Target Lancer.

7) Loss of Innocence

Nate’s digging leads him down roads better left untraveled. As the evidence piles up surrounding the assassination of JFK, he’s not thrilled by the conclusions, and he’s concerned that such conclusions will have him looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.

8 ) Smoke

Nate Heller is a walking Lucky Strike commercial. Throw in some Cuban intrigue and you’ve got baggage that reeks of cigars. You’ll get major scent memory as you turn the pages, which is just what we want from slick noir.

9) Immasculation

The fear of immasculation is generally a driving theme in most noir crime fiction, but I found it to be absent in Target Lancer. Nate is not insecure. He’s collected and confident, a man unafraid to laugh at himself or to make a joke to cut the tension. I liked that. One thing I noticed is the outward show of masculinity that many of the other characters put forward, especially Hoffa and the mob men. It was fascinating.

I really loved Target Lancer, you will too. Head over to Amazon and pre-order this baby.

Target Lancer

The copy Max sent me (giggles*)

1 Comment

Filed under Noir Crime Fiction

Noir Crime Fiction | Lady, Go Die! by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane

Noir Crime Fiction Lady Go Die

Lady, Go Die! by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane

“Lady Godiva herself,” I said.
“More like lady go die,” Velda said, in hushed horror.

Lady, Go Die! is an epic noir collaboration between two amazing authors from different eras. I was delighted that Max Allan Collins’ style blended so seamlessly with Mickey Spillane’s, and gave us another chapter in the Mike Hammer mythos. Rescued from a wealth of unpublished material after Spillane’s death, the “brittle, yellow single-spaced pages” of Lady, Go Die! were quite the find, and beg the question “What else does the deceased master have in store for us?” Max relates,

A week before his death, Mickey Spillane told his wife Jane, “When I’m gone, there’s going to be a treasure hunt around here. Take everything you find and give it to Max–he’ll know what do do.” Lady, Go Die! constituted perhaps the most exciting find. As I read the manuscript, I realized this was something quite special…”

To those who take issue with Mickey “passing the torch” in this manner I say: If Mickey trusts Max, I trust Max. I’m glad I did. The teaser:

Mike Hammer needs a vacation. With buxom secretary in tow, a promise to lay off the sauce, and a hope for relaxation he leaves the bustle of Manhattan and arrives in the sedated, beach-side village of Sidon. Before long, he stumbles upon a scene of police brutality and uncovers a chain of corruption that stretches all the way back to the big city. When a sexy husband-killing widow is found murdered, astride a horse statue naked in the center of town, the Private Eye’s instincts kick in, leading him on the hunt of a two-fold mystery: A serial murderer who preys on beautiful women and an illegal gambling racket where every town official is on the take.

“You know me, Louie. I’m not much of a gambler.”
A grave expression took over the jovial face. “You are the great gambler, Mike. You gamble your life.”

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

A noir crime fiction by noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

A beach front retreat before summer bloats is the back drop for this caper. Oceanside mansions, quaint hotels, and local diners- populated by the small-town salt of the earth.

2) The Anti- Hero

Mike Hammer is a bastion of masculinity. He’s as smart as he is violent, and understands that some folks just need killing. Prone to dabble in alcoholism and dames, he’s an anti-hero that skirts the line between Sam Spade and Parker.

I couldn’t stay a cop. All those rules and regulations drove me bugs. I had a more direct method for dealing with the bastards that preyed upon society–I just killed their damn asses.

3) The Femme Fatale

In Lady, Go Die! the dames are all femme fatales; my only question was which one would get Mike killed first.

Her mouth found mine and she trembled under me as our mouths surrendered to each other.
When I held her away from me, she was gasping, “That was the first time you ever did that, Mike.”
“I’ve wanted to for a long time,” I told her roughly.

4) Misogyny

Mike himself isn’t very misogynistic, but the overall tone of the novel is. The women in the story are completely male defined, and even the strongest of them (Velda) isn’t strong enough avoid becoming a victim…

5) Redemption

Redemption doesn’t appear to be a central theme beyond the intellectual redemption that comes from unraveling a mystery. From time to time Mike experiences fits of vengeance, but I wouldn’t call these redemptive in any way to his character. He seems more motivated by pride than anything.

6) Eroticism

Lady, Go Die! has a satisfyingly erotic tilt to it. Some of the best scenes in the book involve the attempted seduction of Mike Hammer, and the relentless tension between he and Velda. For the wary: this isn’t a romance novel, and the details are spared any graphics. In a word, titillation.

Before she could finish that thought, I reached up and gripped her dressing gown at the neck, then gave it a vicious yank. The light material of the wrapper ripped like paper. I tossed it away like a used tissue and had a look at my handiwork.

7) Loss of Innocence

The loss of innocence is a central theme in this noir crime fiction, and is expected because of the serial killing angle. Lovely, pure, and innocent women are found strung up and nude, posed in the most degrading of fashions by a sadistic fiend. How can innocence exist in such a clime? As you read, remember that everyone is a suspect, no one above suspicion.

Noir Crime Fiction Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane

8 ) Smoke

The smoke curls from the end of a gun just as frequently as it curls from the end of a cigarette in this novel.

9) Emasculation

Mike doesn’t fear emasculation because it isn’t an option. He knows that even if he were to lose, the winner wouldn’t escape his punishment. Mr. Hammer never doubts himself, doesn’t allow others to take advantage of him or those he cares about, and never crumbles under the pressure. In this way he arrives as an escapee from a time-capsule of early noir; a vision of man as he should be.

“Ain’t you the one that–“
Velda stopped him again. “Shot down those two hoods in Times Square? That’s him. Showed a couple hundred people in a nightclub what a crook had for dinner, using a steak knife? One and the same. Got in Dutch with the police for making a perfectly good suspect unrecognizable? That’s him.”

Lady, Go Die! is a great gritty read and if you haven’t experienced Mike Hammer yet, here’s the place to start.

1 Comment

Filed under Noir Crime Fiction