Max Allan Collins’ Killing Quarry

There is something nice about seeing an old character, genre, or style revived. Killing Quarry by Max Allan Collins once again delivers an adventure of his ’70s pulp character Quarry, a Vietnam veteran who finds himself dealing with frequent strange criminal conflicts in his role as a hit man. Killing Quarry is an interesting experience for me, as I am not exceptionally familiar with the character’s prior appearances before this particular book. It is neither the first appearance of the title character, nor is it the first revival, making it an interesting story to start with.

The first few pages are, in many ways, a primer to get the reader caught up if they are not familiar with Quarry, his history with a character called the Broker, postwar crimes, and former partner Boyd.

I cannot help but notice how surprisingly contemporary, but not inappropriate, Quarry’s attitude about sexuality is. Within the first couple of pages the reader has learned that Quarry is heterosexual, but not violently angry about homosexuality, indeed, he had a former partner, Boyd, who was gay. Indeed, the words related to Boyd and a description of their history together produces an amusing set of double entendres that make those pages alone worth reading. Looking at the history of these books, Boyd was around for a multitude of novels before becoming a corpse, and written as gay from the get go. It is a mark in Collins’ favor, as is the fact that Lu, a major secondary character, has her own goals and story arc in the tale.

This particular volume deals with Quarry’s work killing hit men, and the fact that he finds one of them hunting him as well. Like any good pulp novel, there are twists and turns aplenty, and a number of issues from Quarry’s past feature prominently, including an old flame by the name of Lu, another Vietnam veteran, and the organization that used to hire him regularly. There are multiple instances where someone who looked to be the major antagonist dies, and a bigger conflict looms.

The point of view starts at and remains in a very tight first person, Quarry telling someone about one of his experiences, and keeping a fair amount of information to himself. It’s a point of view that works well in general, and extremely well in regard to this pulp format. The narrator has a strong sense of self and a surprising sense of humor, both of which serve to keep the volume out of the territory of self parody.

The cover, a nice painting by Paul Mann, is not only in the style of a classic pulp cover but evokes the contents of the book extremely well. The depiction of Lu fits the description and presence of the character, and there are a number of scenes in the book it evokes.

The book ends with an author’s note of sorts in which he discusses the fact that there are historical inaccuracies, largely being that a certain facility is open which closed in real life. As this is a work of fiction the author does not object to this inaccuracy, and I am inclined to agree. Whether such a minor change marks this book as alternate history is anyone’s guess.

This volume is classic pulp crime, for better and worse. The stereotypical manly man and femme fatale are each in their places, although Max Allan Collins is skilled enough to ensure unexpected usage. It makes an excellent first introduction to Quarry, and the callbacks are sure to be appreciated by longtime readers as well. 

(Hard Case Crime 2019)

About Warner Holme

Born in the mid-south and keeps getting dragged back there. Warner Holme is well studied in fantastical and mysterious fiction.