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Quarry in the Black


Quarry in the Black

Just a month before a presidential election, the hit man simply known as Quarry returns in his seventh original story for Hard Case Crime. The book comes at a good time for Quarry as the character is now a Cinemax original series.

Quarry is the creation of the great writer Max Allan Collins, who started the series in the early 1970s as a student in the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He wrote five Quarry novels in the ’70s before the series went away for a few decades, and he concentrated on other work. The five original novels were reissued by Hard Case Crime in 2015.

In Quarry, Collins had created the first series to feature a professional hit man. The books are the definition of great pulp fiction --- interesting stories filled with the occasional sex and violence that propel the narrative forward at breakneck speed and keep you turning pages. He writes in an easy conversational style that makes you enjoy spending time with a killer, looking over his shoulder, even rooting for him.

"Max Allan Collins is a writer working at the top of his craft. Getting a new Quarry novel in an election year, or any year, is a real treat. QUARRY IN THE BLACK is a terrific read, one of the most enjoyable of the year for mystery fans."

Quarry works and walks on the dark side, yet he himself is not dark. He is just a normal Joe, which makes him terrifying. He carried a gun in a lost war and shot who he was told to kill. Then he used what he learned there as a profession. But none of it was personal. Decades later, corporations would call it downsizing, or relocating overseas, and an entire consulting industry would pop up on how to do it without bloodshed. Heck, they could have just hired Quarry. (This might be a good future storyline, Mr. Collins.)

When QUARRY IN THE BLACK begins, the hit man has been working for the mysterious broker --- his middleman to set up the hits --- for a few years. Quarry explains: “In my defense I was fairly new to the game. I had been killing people for money for less than two years, so maybe my relative inexperience played a role. Of course, really, I had been killing people for money a number of years longer than that, if you counted Vietnam; but the targets were ‘g----s,’ as we used to inelegantly put it, and the employee was ‘Uncle Whiskers,’ not the broker, who paid better, much better, in this instance.”

One of the fun things about the series is that it flashes back to an America that is now a lost world --- an America with Johnny Carson on the tube every night, and a Howard Johnson’s restaurant (HoJo's) in every town and off every highway. And the sexual revolution was in full swing. (Damn, I was still a child.)

Collins, who also writes the great historical mysteries starring his series character Nathan Heller, sets this novel in October 1972, an interesting historical period. Richard Nixon is running for reelection against the antiwar candidate, George McGovern. And for the first time in history, 18-years-olds will have the right to vote. And antiwar activists such as John Lennon, who does not figure in this story, were hard at work trying to register the young to vote against Nixon. For most of the decade before, due to the draft, the young had been the foot soldiers of the antiwar movement.

Quarry is sent to St. Louis on a hit with political overtones. The target is civil rights activist Rev. Raymond Wesley Lloyd: “many think he’s the next Martin Luther King,” Quarry is told by the broker. Quarry has his doubts about the job --- he is not political and, besides, everybody knows Nixon cannot lose --- but he agrees to check out the job and infiltrate Lloyd’s organization. The Reverend is traveling to college campuses recruiting young voters and has a big rally planned with McGovern. The hit has to be done before the election.

But complications soon arise. Quarry defends a young waitress from sexual harassment in a bar, gets involved with her and soon discovers that there is another contract out on Lloyd, this one courtesy of a nasty coven of the Ku Klux Klan in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, a town with a tragic recent history. And as idealistic as Lloyd might be, there are some big problems in his organization.

Max Allan Collins is a writer working at the top of his craft. Getting a new Quarry novel in an election year, or any year, is a real treat. QUARRY IN THE BLACK is a terrific read, one of the most enjoyable of the year for mystery fans. Hopefully, Collins and Hard Case Crime will keep the books coming for many years into the future.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on October 7, 2016

Quarry in the Black
by Max Allan Collins

  • Publication Date: October 4, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Hard-boiled Mystery, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1783298146
  • ISBN-13: 9781783298143