Tag Archives: Quarry

“Quarry” by Max Allan Collins Review

Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Quarry by Max Allan Collins

(Tip for newbies: The book is never as risqué as the cover suggests, but they know what sells)

Here we are again Quarry, I’m giving you the second chance that should have been your first chance. Huh? So the last Quarry novel I read by Max Allan Collins was NOT my favorite (I didn’t care for it).  To be fair, it probably wasn’t the best place to start with Quarry, so here I am at the beginning. This reprinting was originally titled “The Broker” and was released in 1976 as the first glimpse of Mr. Collins recurring hitman character. In this iteration, it’s more appropriately titled “Quarry” and serves to kick off the pulpy serials.

For the first few chapters I had a serious chip on my shoulder (bias from the previous book I’d read) but I shortly ditched the attitude. “Quarry” is good. The narrative follows him on two jobs in the midwest, both of which are outside of his comfort zone. When things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, he has to adapt and make several dangerous decisions. Ultimately, the book is about his professional relationships; not only with his ‘boss’ the Broker but also with his partner Boyd. Both relationships are fraught with potential landmines, which Quarry detonates more frequently than diffuses.

I realized that the reason I liked Quarry this time around is because he reminded me of Parker. The only difference is that Quarry is more vulnerable and accessible to the reader (primarily due to the first person narration) whereas Parker is a sonuvabitch. In the afterword by Mr. Collins, he actually talks about how Quarry is different than Westlake’s famous criminal:

I thought Parker and Nolan were to some degree cop-outs. They were “good” bad-guy thieves– oh, sure, hardbitten as hell, but they stole mainly money and only killed other bad guys… Also, “Richard Stark” and I both wrote our crook books in third person. Safe. Detached.

I wanted to take it up a notch–my “hero” would be a hired killer. The books would be in first person. In the opening chapter, Quarry would do something terrible, giving readers an early chance to bail; late in the book he would again do something terrible, to confront readers with just the kind of person they’d been easily identifying with.

I actually can see the logic of what he’s saying, but I actually feel like Parker is more of a ‘bad-guy’ than Quarry. This isn’t a statement based on fact, because as Mr. Collins said, Parker “only killed other bad guys.” I think that the reason I feel more inclined to forgive Quarry is based purely on narrative technique; Quarry allows us in his head, allows us to be convinced by his reasons for doing what he is doing. Thus Mr. Collins accomplishes what he set out to accomplish; he confronts readers with their acceptance of a baser brand of criminal.

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

The femme fatale archetype makes a splendid appearance– a woman who causes Quarry to question his vocation; to actually consider a life outside of his profession. She is a light of hope that must compete with the long shadow of his actions. But, in true misogynistic fashion, Quarry says,

She was getting dangerously close to being a person in my life. Women hasn’t been persons in my life for a long time. Women were pretty receptacles for pent-up biological and psychological waste material. An extension of self-abuse, nothing more.

This statement creates two effects: 1) it causes the feminist within me to sound the war cry, and 2) it connects the novel with the long tradition of misogyny in noir crime fiction before it. This may seem a shocking viewpoint from the main character, but it’s a symptom of textbook noir.

Pick up “Quarry” by Max Allan Collins if you want a quick, squirmy read, sure to entertain you as well as any classic pulp shoot-em-up.

(I just realized that the last few books I’ve reviewed have all been by Max Allan Collins– I need to switch things up a bit) (But I have pre-ordered Quarry’s Cut already….)


Filed under Noir Crime Fiction

“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.


Filed under Noir Crime Fiction