Wednesday, 19 June 2019


Max Collins' first published novel was The Broker, the first of three Quarry novels published in 1976 (originally, Quarry was part of his thesis at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, showing three thriller series could be set in an Iowans small town. A fourth novel followed in 1977, another in 1987, and then the character lay dormant until Hard Case began publishing new Quarry novels and reprinting the originals with new titles. Quarry is a former Marine sniper scarred by his Vietnam experience: he is in some ways a sociopath for whom killing is no big thing, but outwardly he is a normal small-city Iowan guy. He and The Broker also develop a new angle on killing: selling him to targeted victims to kill the hired killers targeting them. It's an interesting conceit, and one that allows Collins a certain leeway in the situations Quarry encounters.

Quarry's Climax is the thirteenth Quarry novel, and the set up is the epitome of Collins' attitude to Quarry. He's been hired to prevent the murder of Max Climer, controversial publisher of Climax Magazine, and sex entrepreneur in Memphis, 1975. The Broker has turned down a contract on Climer, because he's laundered money through Climax magazine, and the magazine is a huge success: its raunchiness challenging Playboy and Penthouse. So Quarry gets the job of keeping this sleazy tycoon alive.

Turns out Quarry, though feigning ignorance about Climax to The Broker, is a Climax subscriber, and actually reads the articles. Go figure. What he stumbles into in Memphis is a snake pit of family intrigue, with Climer's ex-wife, his brother and his daughter all jockeying for position within the empire, and all, along with any number of outsiders, having reasons to want to Max dead.

Quarry's style is a casual narration that sometimes becomes overly so: Quarry is not a writer, after all, so his narration reflects his background and his writing lapses into easy cliche. It's both a strength and a weakness, a particular strength if you can recall the milieu in which Quarry operates. The specific background of this one obviously starts with Larry Flynt and Hustler, but borrows too from Christie Hefner, Hugh's daughter who became a key to the Playboy empire. And for Quarry, it's a world of great temptation that doesn't always have to be resisted, even if he is, in the end, all business.

What Collins does for Quarry is to bring everything together neatly for Quarry (and the reader) in a way that makes killing merely part of the game. This isn't the hardness and tight focus of Richard Stark's Parker (interestingly, Collins' homage to Parker, Nolan, is never quite as coldly cold-blooded) but a unique blend of world-view and historical crime, though I'm not sure 1975 is far enough back yet to qualify for that category in the awards. But anyone who's read Collins' Nate Heller novels know how effective his settings can be. Quarry, for a killer, is a lot of fun, and you can tell Collins has fun writing him.  Readers will have fun as well. And the cover, by Robert McGinnis, with its echoes of Gold Medal paperbacks, is perfect. If you're old enough to recall 'mens mags' fondly, or young enough to want to, you ought to meet Quarry now.

Quarry's Climax by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime £7.99 ISBN 9781785651809

This review will also appear at Crime Time (

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