The latest installment in a long-running book series, The Wrong Quarry brings Max Allan Collins’ semi-retired assassin to small town Missouri and the hitman’s hitman to an impasse that threatens to change everything.
Jack Quarry is a former hitman who’s turned his sights back on himself, or people like himself. Quarry has created a bit of a niche business for himself wherein he tracks and kills other hitmen. There’s quite a bit more to the conceit than that, but it’s the gist of Max Allan Collins’ popular character. Collins, a seasoned author of dozens of titles–namely, the Road to Perdition series which inspired the 2002 film–doesn’t spend much more time than I have here when setting the premise of The Wrong Quarry in its opening pages; that’s a noted characteristic of the paperback crime novel genre, within which Collins has long been a standout. Hard Case Crime brings this latest edition of Jack Quarry’s exploits to print, and they also specialize in these page turners which have a way of seeming short enough to comfortably read in a single sitting because of their fast-paced prose.
Actually, much of the genre ventures into pulp territory, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just as men can certainly enjoy a paperback romance novel just as much as women, women can certainly find pleasure in reading the occasional paperback crime novel; with that said, the majority of the paperback romance novels out there are read by women, and the paperback crime novel is ostensibly its male counterpart in the paperback pulp tango.
I say that not to slight the genre at all, but to accentuate the tightrope presented by it. With The Wrong Quarry, Collins walks this line with the ease of Philippe Petit. Does he occasionally venture into the smuttier, raunchier area? Yes, but you can pretty much take a story anywhere, as long as it’s kept on a short leash, or inside a pen made of character and plot development. Leaving my cheesy dog metaphors aside, The Wrong Quarry is written very well.
As you turn its pages, the American Midwest town of Stockwell, Missouri, is swiftly constructed around you and, while it may not tangibly exist on any map, Stockwell is the kind of place that’s familiar to people all over the country; where small town politics don’t involve any politicians. There are three kinds of people in a town like Stockwell: people who know people, people who are people, and people you don’t want to know; Max Allan Collins and Jack Quarry introduce you to all of them in The Wrong Quarry. Along with these small town politics, Quarry’s assassin adventure is also accented with a social intrigue that, while the novel is decidedly set somewhere in the late ’70s or early ’80s with references to The Love Boat reruns and Pat Benatar, still greatly resonates today. While the broaching of serious subjects like homophobia and PTSD (Quarry is a Vietnam vet) may or may not be used to further a political agenda, Collins’ use of them here is more subdued than in previous Quarry titles–almost to the point of being tangential–but they always further the plot.
There’s no wonder Cinemax recently filmed a pilot for a Quarry television series starring Stellan Skarsgård and Logan Marshall-Green; the only question is why it took this long (the decadently organic dialogue almost guarantees it had to be an unrated cable channel, but still). While the series’ antihero is a dangerously skilled assassin, he’s also rife with human foibles and insecurity which makes him relatable to someone like me who, let’s face it, isn’t exactly James Bond. While I was occasionally reminded a bit of Showtime’s recently ended Dexter, if you read any book in the Quarry series, it’s very clear the only thing Jack Quarry and Dexter Morgan have in common is the belief that, if you’re gonna kill people, why not kill the right people?
The Wrong Quarry will be released tomorrow (January 7th); it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.