Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime)

Her upper lip curled at little. "You know what your problem is, Jack? You don't know whether you want to fuck me or kill me."

"Is there an all-of-the-above?" I asked her.

Before he was a hired killer, the man later known as Quarry — back then, he was Jack — was killing for the Marines in Vietnam. On arriving home a day earlier than expected, he found his wife with another man. Later, he went looking for the guy and killed him, but the District Attorney recognized Jack's war record, and the possibly accidental nature of the death, and decided not to prosecute.

That still left Jack on his own, with no marketable skills except one. Enter the Broker, who saw emerging talent in "Quarry" and hired him for contract killings for years (see The First Quarry), until he betrayed Quarry and had to be gotten rid of. But not before Quarry found the Broker's list and decided to go into business for himself (see Quarry in the Middle).

Now he uses the list to locate the Broker's former employers, follow them around to identify their targets, then offer his own services to the target to eliminate the threat. It's entrepreneurship at its finest: find a need and fill it.

This time, the killer is Nick Varnos, a specialist in "accidental" death, and the intended victim is film director Arthur Stockwell, shooting the sequel to his surprise hit (in the burgeoning home-video market) Hard Wheels. A pretty straightforward job, it seems, until Quarry meets Mrs. Stockwell, who just happens to be the former Mrs. Quarry....

Quarry's Ex feels as if it were written in 2 or 3 fevered sessions. That's how fast it moves. Author Max Allan Collins seems to save his tightest prose for this series, and this is no exception. The character also allows Collins to let loose with some of his darkest, crudest, and funniest one-liners.

And this time, Collins also gets to use his experience writing and directing independent films like Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life to give the novel detailed atmosphere. Posing as Jack Reynolds, unit publicist, Quarry gets unfettered access to the film set, cast, and crew — including full access to some.

Collins sets up the time period with flair, peppering references to the Reagan/Carter election and the growing video industry, as well as dropping the names of current films like The Empire Strikes Back and The Shining. But mostly readers will be glad to see Quarry once again up to his old tricks — this time with an emotional twist — in Quarry's Ex.

As an aside, I want to mention that I noticed something in particular about Quarry for the first time. He takes in a showing of The Long Riders. He spends some time in the john with Elmore Leonard's Valdez Is Coming. And he is just about to watch a Randolph Scott film when he is interrupted. Who knew Quarry liked Westerns?


David Cranmer said...

Quarry likes Westerns. Makes sense.

Craig Clarke said...

Yeah. Me, you, Quarry -- all us tough guys. :)

Actually, I went back to look, and I guess I just missed the earlier references to this preference. In The First Quarry, he says he also likes Harold Robbins and science fiction.

Max Allan Collins said...

Quarry reads (and watches) westerns going back to the Berkely novels.

Brian Drake said...

Max beat me to it!

One thing I will point out, though: the "other" hit man, Keller, also reads westerns; at least he did in "Keller on Horseback". A nod to Max?

Max Allan Collins said...

I would call Keller entirely a "nod" to Max.

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