It’s tough out there for the professional hitman. You’ve got to pick up and go to a strange town on a moment’s notice, locate your target, and stake him out for a week or so, following his every move, learning his habits, in order to minimize the margin of error. Then, if you work alone, you have to actually kill him and not leave any trace of yourself behind as you hightail it back to your hometown. If you work with a partner, you have to bring him in at the right time, filling him in on all the pertinent data of the target’s routine, and then hope everything comes off perfectly. Yes, it’s a pretty stressful way to make a living.
It’s even more difficult if your name happens to be John Quarry. Because your targets are the very assassins described above.
Max Allan Collins has turned the hitman genre on its ear in The Wrong Quarry (2014, Hard Case Crime/Titan Books), the latest in his long-running series about a military sniper-turned-professional killer.
Quarry used to be in the trenches with all the other hitmen (and women) until his “broker” met up with, shall we say, an untimely end in an earlier installment in the series. While going through the broker’s effects, Quarry discovered his database of killers used for his many high-paying jobs.
As Quarry perused the list of names, a light bulb clicked on. What if he were to stake out these killers, one at a time, until they were called away on a job? He could follow them, then stake out their stakeouts until he could identify their target. He would then make a deal with the target to take out the killer(s) in return for a hefty sum. Who wouldn’t want to pay up to save his own life? Quarry’s got it all figured out. All the bases are covered, right? Things should work out perfectly.
Set in the early 1980s, the era of Ronald Reagan, Ford Pintos, and Holiday Inns, Collins takes the reader deep into the heart of small-town Midwest, following a killer who, it is eventually revealed, is targeting a gay dance school instructor. Turns out the daughter of the biggest man in town has disappeared and the dance instructor is at the top of Mr Big’s suspect list. Is Mr Big the one who contracted for the hit? Quarry covertly approaches the dance instructor, and … wait, did I say nothing could go wrong?
Tension builds, whodunit-style, as Quarry moves around town, trying to find out who is really responsible for the girl’s disappearance, because, according to assassin protocol, if you take out the contractor, the hit is automatically voided.
Throw in a horny high school vixen and a smokin’ fortyish babe, and you’ve got a dandy setup for the bloody finale.
Collins, a veteran of over eighty novels and several different series, has been writing these Quarry tales for a long time, but with his hitman-vs-hitman twist, he’s breathed new life into both the character (who seems to enjoy his new pursuit) and the genre. Here’s hoping Quarry will be with us for a long time to come.
Recommendation: Another solid offering from Max Allan Collins. Buy it. And besides, it’s a Hard Case Crime book, so you know it’s got to be good.