QUARRY’S EX by Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins has been writing the adventures of Quarry, a professiona hitman, for decades. I’ve been with the books from the very start and have enjoyed growing up with Quarry. The character has been through a lot of changes over those years, and lately his new adventures have actually been his older ones.
I like the new books about the old times, and Collins doesn’t try to pretend a lot of years haven’t gone by. The first person narrative reflects on the passage of time on occasion, making remarks to equate popular culture back then to popular culture now. A lot of writers would try to make the books just period piece things, and Collins is exceptionally good at that (the Nate Heller novels), but I think he chooses not to go that route because the time period back then is so close to present day. It makes sense that a guy like Quarry would still be around and his observations about the past and present would be in the stories.
Quarry’s Ex, the latest and hopefully not the last, is a gem of a book. It could just as easily have been called Quarry Goes Hollywood, or something like that, and the movie background in the story would have been fine. Since Collins is also an independent moviemaker, he brings a lot of background to the tale that makes the suspense story at the heart of this a lot more interesting.
But Collins goes one step further in this book: he makes it a bitter-sweet thing by confronting Quarry with the one person that set him on his profession path as a killer – his ex-wife Joni. Just putting those two people together in the pages, letting the past play out again in a new and fascinating way, would have been really cool, but Collins hits new riffs with this one.
I was curious about the ex-wife, and I wanted to know her story. I was predisposed not to trust her or like her after everything she’d done to Quarry, and Collins could have made bank on that with me. But he tosses up something new, and I wasn’t sure if she deserved my condemnation or if she was going to kill Quarry up until the final pages of the book.
I love Collins’s narrative voice in these books, and he’s never been funnier while still being deadly. His wry observations are on target, and I caught up with his curve balls right before they smacked into the glove, which is when you want a reader (and a batter) to see them best.
If you’ve read Collins and Quarry before, you’ll love this book. If this is your first Quarry book, do yourself a favor and read some of the others first. The earliest books have just been reprinted and are available everywhere.