QUARRY’S EX by Max Allan Collins

Book Quote:

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“That’s almost like…almost like hearing you say you still love me, Jack.”

Book Review:

Review by Daniel Luft  (SEP 28, 2010)

Another autumn descends and another Quarry novel is on the shelf. These are good times to be a reader. With four Quarry Novels in five years, Max Allan Collins can almost be forgiven for the 20-year gap in the series from the mid 80s to the mid 00s.

This time Quarry, a former hitman for the mob who has turned freelance, is on the set of a low budget biker movie in the late 70s. He’s trying to protect the director, Art Stockwell, from an inevitable assassination attempt. He is also trying to find out who put the contract out on Stockwell’s life. Among the suspects are a Chicago mob boss and Stockwell’s nearly-estranged wife who also happens to be Quarry’s fully-estranged ex-wife. This situation proves to be the first socially awkward moment in the hitman’s career.

Like all the books in this series, Quarry’s Ex is deceptively quiet. There are no 10-car pile-ups on the interstate, no helicopter police chases and no bridges that come crashing down at rush hour. What there is is paranoia, misanthropy and violence in close quarters. Quarry is truly detached from humanity and only looks out for his own interests. This can make for dark humor and understatement as Quarry tells his own story. He is inordinately composed when he discusses brutal subjects such as his methods of interrogation:

“Cutting off someone’s fingers or shooting them in the kneecap, trying to make them talk, it’s messy and it’s inefficient. And you have to keep them alive, in case the first thing they tell you isn’t true, requiring you to go back and cut off another finger or shoot another kneecap or something.

Torture is a whole different arena. Requires training that I never got. You never know when somebody is going to pass out or even die on you. And then where are you?”

With shop talk like this it is clear that Quarry is capable of killing anyone, a mob boss, his ex wife or even the man he’s working for if he has to. With an amoral main character any plot twist is possible.

Each of the recent Quarry books is billed as possibly the last before Collins puts the series to rest so each story feels like a little gift. And “little” is an important word. Quarry’s Ex is less than 200 pages and moves at the perfect pace for a single sitting. Quarry started off in a fast-moving pulp novel in the early 1970s and the author has retained that sensibility throughout the series.

The paperback era of hardboiled writing started after world war two and stretched into the late 70’s. In that time, mysteries, thrillers and noir usually came in very small, tightly wound packages that could explode in your hands and were finished at around 200 hundred pages. It was enough space to pull a reader in all the way and a small enough space to lack digression.

Then, in the early 80s, thrillers started to get thicker and subplots began to leak in. Private detectives picked up hobbies, bad guys developed endearing quirks and minor characters began to live their own story lines. This practice amounted to multiple distractions over much longer novels. The short, sweaty action novel morphed into something softer, often flabby and less structured.

But Collins is old enough to be part of the last wave of action writers who know how to tell a story fast and unsentimentally. For him, this kind of writing in neither nostalgic nor retro, it’s what he trained himself to do. He has been successful at writing longer, more circuitous books but for nine novels (over 35 years) he has managed to keep the Quarry series pure and untainted by the fashions of publishing trends.

Editor’s note:  Although Daniel Luft’s review starts off by saying this book is “on the shelf,” technically it will not be until fall of 2011.  The parent company of Hard Case Crime has decided not to print any more paperbacks and thus Hard Case Crime  has had to move to another publisher. This review will be reposted when the book is really on the shelf.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 11 readers
PUBLISHER: Hard Case Crime (September 20, 2011)
REVIEWER: Daniel Luft
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Max Allan Collins
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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September 28, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

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