Max Allan Collins, |
Quarry in the Black
(Hard Case Crime, 2016)
Max Allan Collins is the only writer I can name who got an advanced degree from the prestigious University of Iowa Writers' Program, while specializing in pulp fiction. His biggest influence was comic-book writer turned mystery novelist Mickey Spillane, whose detective, Mike Hammer, was one of the "shoot first, ask questions later" types, a genuine hard man who, as the title of the first book about him says, was the investigator, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury, as well as the executioner. Collins, who became a very good friend of Spillane's, served as his literary executor and finished several books Spillane had been working on at the time of his death.
It is safe to say this man knows about the hard-boiled genre. The protagonist of this long-running series -- Collins started working on the Quarry books at Iowa in 1971 and the first one was published in 1976 -- is Quarry, a former Marine sniper in Vietnam, who returned home to become a professional hitman.
His problem as a hitman is that he has a code of ethics. He is a murderer, yes, but the people he kills deserve and need, in his mind at least, killing. There is a dichotomy at work in Quarry's mind; his is a searcher for truth, a modern-day Diogenes, with a 9-millimeter silenced automatic rather than a lamp. That's what makes the books work; Quarry is an interesting man.
What also makes them work is that Collins is a master action-adventure writer. He can keep a plot moving, generate suspense and toss in a curve ball you never see coming.
The current Quarry novels that Collins is writing for Hard Case Crime are set in the past. Quarry in the Black takes place during the McGovern campaign in 1972. He is hired to kill the Rev. Raymond Wesley Lloyd, an African-American civil rights leader who is being spoken of as the next Martin Luther King Jr. Quarry isn't certain he should take the job but his "broker" assures him the man is dirty; he is financing his civil rights work by dealing drugs. After infiltrating Lloyd's operation, Quarry does find evidence of drug dealing but he also finds evidence of the reverend's sincerity.
While trying to sort it all out, he runs afoul of a Ferguson, Missouri, KKK operation and discovers that there's a second contract out on Rev. Lloyd. He also finds that his own life is in danger.
Read the first couple of pages and you'll be hooked and will have to keep reading in order to discover how our assassin works his way through all of this to arrive at a decision as to what to do about Lloyd and to make sure justice is served. Collins is that good.
His work appears to have no art about it. His style is natural, conversational and hides a great deal of art and technique. His books are never less than compelling and, whether it's a Quarry or another one of his creations, such as The Road to Perdition, he never fails to take us on quite a trip.
book review by
Michael Scott Cain
15 October 2016
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