‘Quarry’ by Max Allan Collins

‘Quarry’ is the story of an amoral, emotionally distant man who became acquainted with killing in Vietnam and carried on the habit when he returned home and found his wife had taken a lover. After he kicks away the jacks holding up the car his wife’s lover is working under, he discovers two things: that he lost no sleep over it and that he got away with it. So he lets himself be recruited by The Broker as an assassin for hire.

We first meet Quarry five years later, killing a man in the airport of a small town on the Mississippi. He does this with dispassionate efficiency and then returns on foot to his airport hotel and takes a swim. A woman approaches him and we learn that she’s been sleeping off an early session of sex with Quarry and now wants to fit in a second session before her husband returns. Quarry obliges, as much to consolidate his alibi as for the sex itself.

Quarry makes Reacher look like a sensitive guy with a White Knight complex. Quarry is just as deadly as Reacher but he doesn’t believe in rescuing anyone but himself. He’s a man who knows that he’s hollow inside. He kills because it pays well and he’s good at it. He swims because when he swims he doesn’t have to think. He has sex with women who he sees primarily as what he describes as accessories for his own self-abuse.

Then things go wrong for Quarry. He loses faith in The Broker. He has doubts about his partner that he’s been working with for five years. His latest killing goes bad and he goes looking for… well he’s not entirely sure. Answers? Revenge? Money? A way out of his present life?

Watching Quarry unravel his life and deal with the people he feels have let him down is like watching a shark tear through prey.

The plot is linear but compelling, with bits clicking into place for Quarry as if he were reassembling a gun in the dark. The writing is muscular, direct and cliché-free and yet delivers a strong sense of place and time. What I admired most about the book was the way Collins uses Quarry’s direct to camera thoughts to draw a clearer and more complex picture of him for the reader than Quarry is capable of seeing for himself.

Quarry’s relationship with the ex-bunny-girl owner of a bar and club shows him at his most human. This is a woman who says that, for her, a long-term relationship is one that lasts a week and who is attracted to Quarry because she felt that when he looked at her he saw a woman and not a piece of meat. Quarry seems to feel protective towards her. He even fantasises about making a life with her. At the same time, he uses her to get what he wants and is willing to walk away from her if it becomes necessary.

For me, what makes ‘Quarry’ much more than an entertaining piece of pulp fiction is its honesty about how people behave. How they deceive themselves. What they are willing to do to hold on to what they have. How they let their subconscious make their decisions and spend time later rationalising them.

I think that I can only take Quarry in small doses – being in his company is like constantly having an itch – but I’m also sure I’ll be back for more.

I picked up ‘Quarry’ after watching the TV series from Cinemax. I can see that the series draws upon multiple books about Quarry and that it has gone onto a path of its own. much as the Trueblood series diverged from the Sookie Stackhouse books. I’ve never understood the point of that. Why buy the rights to something and then make it into something else?

Even so, the TV series was fun – dark, violent and depressing – but fun. Here’s the trailer;

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