Saturday, January 22, 2011

Good Reads :: Collins Mines Hard-Boiled Gold in Quarry.

To get you all up to speed, our protagonist for today, Quarry, is a killer for hire who used to work for a network of assassins somewhat akin to Bugsy Segal and Meyer Lansky's Murder Inc., where said assassinations were handled by contract in such a clandestine way that there would be no link between those paying for the hit, the team of hit-men (one for reconnaissance, the other the trigger-man or woman) and the target. That is, he used to until his manager, known simply as the Broker, tried to double-cross and eliminate him three installments ago; and since Quarry is still here to be written about you can probably guess how that all worked out. Now, armed with the Broker's list of operatives, Quarry has a new angle: find and stalk his fellow assassins, find out who they're trying to kill, and then step in, gum up the works, and turn the tables on whoever wants the target dead and eliminate them instead -- for a fee, of course. Unapologetically misanthropic (with some narcissistic tendencies), fast on his feet, quicker of mind, with no moral hesitations, these traits make Quarry very good at his job, but he also subscribes to a strange code of ethics that separates him from you average, run of the mill sociopath. And despite these few character flaws, it is the wry, quick-witted and brutally honest voice that author Max Allan Collins bestows upon this character both internally and externally that endears me to him as he bangs away (on the bed and with his gun) through each venture.

"Not that I'm apologizing ... I like a black comedy, and I like the freedom of doing whatever sick, twisted thing that comes into my mind. My late mentor Don Westlake said that Richard Stark was Westlake getting up on the wrong side of the bed on a rainy day. Quarry is me when I slept on the floor and woke to a thunderstorm."
-- Max Allan Collins
I was first introduced to Collins' modus operandi when I found several Ms. Tree comics in one of those potluck value-packs you used to find at the Walgreens back in the 1980's. There was just something about the simple and blunt and brutal straight-forwardness of that series that clicked and I did my damndest to find more. (And could someone, anyone, get those Ms. Tree comics the ominbus reprint treatment? 'kay, thanks.) Anyways, I was re-introduced to him a few years ago while burning through those Hard Case Crime novels, where Collins resurrected his snarky and cynical hired gun for three new installments (-- with a fourth pending, I hope, as I'm highly confused with Amazon and their ever shifting release dates right now.) This sent me in search of more, which went nowhere, because those old novels, and even the reprints, went for an insane amount of coin no matter where you dug. Luckily, Perfect Crime Books has them all back in print at a much more reasonable price.

With Quarry's Cut (originally published as The Slasher in 1977), this time, an opportunity practically lands in Quarry's lap, when he spots a former associate, who used to scout targets for him, in a cafe he frequents, and then traces the creep to the probable target: a pornographer, who is currently shooting his latest and last skin-flick at a secluded mountain lodge before heading to Hollywood and legitimacy for a major minor studio. After bluffing his way inside under false pretenses, our protagonist sizes up the likely suspects among the motley cast and crew, including an old acquaintance he knocked-boots with at some point in the past. Luckily, that carnal encounter ended amicably, so she doesn't blow his cover, but that appears to be the end of Quarry's luck as he tries to sniff out the trigger-man and confirm the intended target. And then things get even harrier when someone starts knocking off the small troupe, one by one, as a winter storm rages outside, trapping them all inside with at least two killers. And maybe more.

What boils done to a proto-body count/snuff movie, Quarry's Cut is a fun and frantic and frenzied foray into the seedy world of smut films and the mob that usually finances them. And having our hard-boiled hero plopped down in the middle of a country cottage whodunit, with that kinda cast for support, is truly inspired story-telling, folks, and just one of the many, many reasons as to why I love Max Allan Collins. His style, like his character, here, is lean and mean and openly disdains any unnecessary filler; just clean and clear-cut; set it up quick and then knock 'em down, and then tease them to the next chapter to do it all over again.

See also, Quarry, Quarry's List, Quarry's Deal, The First Quarry, The Last Quarry, Quarry in the Middle, and, hopefully, Quarry's Ex.

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