(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.
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….)