Friday, July 01, 2011

The Last Quarry

If you read a lot then you know how nice it is to get hold of a book that you simply cannot stop reading. One that gets you by the throat and just drags you along. That happens to me far too infrequently these days. However, I literally just finished one, The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins. The book is sitting on the desk to my right as I type this. I was just going to read the first few pages and here, several hours later, I'm reviewing it.
This is the kind of hardboiled Noir-fest that would have been published by Gold Medal books a few decades back. Heck, it even has a Robert McGinnis cover.
Quarry is a hit man, and when this one opens he's a retired hit man. Against his better judgment, he allows himself to be brought out of retirement for one last job, and things go horribly tragically wrong. Usually Quarry is hired to kill people who arguably deserve it, (crooked businessmen, bent lawyers, etc) but this time his client wants him to kill a woman who seems to be just an average citizen. A nice, even boring young woman. A librarian. But Quarry is a professional. He doesn't ask questions. You hire him and you get a body. Period.
But...maybe it's the accumulated years of killing or maybe it's just Quarry's age (do hit men get mid-life crises?) but for whatever reason, the cool, calculating pro gets too close to his intended target and that's when things get interesting.
I had read Max Allan Collins' original five Quarry novels back when they first came out, but I hadn't gotten around to the new ones currently being published by that modern Gold Medal, Hard Case Crime. (Hard Case ran into some trouble but they're back.) In addition to The Last Quarry, there are also Quarry in the Middle, The First Quarry, and the upcoming Quarry's Ex. You can also pick up the original Quarry books in new editions from Perfect Crime Books with nifty new covers from Collins' frequent collaborator, Terry Beatty.
The thing about Quarry is he's not a shining hero, not a world weary PI or a cop. Killing people is his business and he takes no pleasure in the hits (Well, not the scheduled ones.) but he is very good at what he does and you do not want to get on his bad side. In some ways he reminds me of Robert E. Howard's heroes in that he's seen enough death that killing someone to solve a problem is always an option. He won't do it if he doesn't have to, but it's always there.
Reading Quarry again for the first time in a long while reminded me of why Collins' has such a firm grip on Mike Hammer. Quarry is equally as deadly as Hammer, but his menace is of a much colder variety. Usually. There is one moment in the book where Quarry's anger boils over and it ain't pretty.
Anyway if you want a hard hitting crime novel with some nice twists and very interesting characters, latch on to this one. I have to go to Amazon now and order all the others.

P.S. Parts of The Last Quarry were rewritten and expanded from a couple of Quarry short stories. One of these stories, A Matter of Principal, was made into a short film, which in turn sparked Quarry's prose return. Collins provides an afterword in The Last Quarry to explain how all this came about. And yeah, I'll be getting the film too. Duh.


Max Allan Collins said...

Very gratifying to receive a review like this. Thank you.

THE LAST QUARRY ultimately became a feature film (co-written by me), due out on DVD soon, with Tom Sizemore excellent as Quarry (who is called Price in the film).

You make sure very interesting points, I think. Quarry probably represents an unlikely marriage of influences from two very different writers: Spillane, as you note, and Richard Stark.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Now that you mention it I can see the Stark influence. Not as evident as in your other character, Nolan, but Quarry and Parker definitely have the same approach to their respective 'businesses."

Great news about the feature. I Googled Tom Sizemore and he looks like he'd make an excellent Quarry. I'll be watching for the DVD.