QUARRY’S EX by Max Allan Collins

Review by Mike Dennis

“Clients opened a drawer, stuck in their hand, and I was the weapon they pulled out.”

That’s Quarry talking, and he’s a professional killer. Like most in his line of work, he sees things through a very tight, all-business prism. He knows the intended targets are the walking dead, slated for extinction by someone else who has paid a lot of money to get it done. So if he has a moment of queasiness or second thought, a replacement will step in and do it instead. Either way, the target goes down.

Quarry is far from one-dimensional, however, and his personality shines through in Max Allan Collins’ Quarry’s Ex, a top-notch 2011 effort for the newly-resuscitated Hard Case Crime imprint.

The year is 1980 and we find Quarry in Boot Heel, a small town in extreme southern Nevada, which is prospering from the patronage of middle-class people, most of whom sport Reagan For President buttons, and who find Las Vegas too expensive and/or too crowded. While having lunch in a casino restaurant, he has a chance encounter with Jerry, a former colleague who, after a few Scotches, starts talking shop.

Turns out Jerry is in town as part of a two-man team whose intention is to kill a movie director shooting a film on location in Boot Heel. As it happens, Quarry is stalking the other member of the team in what will eventually turn the hitman-story subgenre on its ear.

In a rare moment of introspection, Quarry reveals to the reader his reasons for entering the murder business. Due to a perfect alignment of the stars, he tells how he met the Broker years earlier, who began setting him up with good-paying hit jobs. Eventually, Quarry had to liquidate the Broker and wound up with his database of contract killers.

Sensing a big-money opportunity, he then decides to surveil these killers, one at a time, until they go out on a job. Through diligent work, he determines who their target is, and then approaches that target, telling him/her of the imminent danger. For a price, he will eliminate the killer and for a larger price, he’ll eliminate the one who hired the job to be done. Nick Varnos is one of these hitmen and Quarry has been tailing Varnos at his Las Vegas home for a month, waiting for him to go out on a job. Finally, Varnos leads him to Boot Heel.

Quarry’s Ex is the latest entry in Collins’ series about this hardass killer. By wisely filling in some of Quarry’s past, he has added a lot of texture to the character, enabling the reader to invest in him emotionally. We learn that through the years, Quarry has overcome some of his greatest struggles, not the least of which were caused by his cheating ex-wife. Years later, as his body count surges upward, he remains haunted by her and the demons she awakened within him.

Collins is the author of several successful series, as well as bearing the Mike Hammer torch passed to him by the late Mickey Spillane. I certainly hope he finds time in the future to continue this riveting series about a hired killer.

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