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The Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Quarry doesn’t kill just anybody these days. He restricts himself to targeting other hitmen, availing his marked-for-death clients of two services: eliminating the killers sent after them, and finding out who hired them…and then removing that problem as well. So far he’s rid of the world of nobody who would be missed. But this time he finds himself zeroing in on the grieving family of a missing cheerleader. Does the hitman’s hitman have the wrong quarry in his sights?

Quarry, that’s as close as you’ll get to a name for our enigmatic protagonist, is something of an anti-hero. He’s a hitman who has developed a bit of a conscience, and has taken it upon himself to deal with those that used to be his competition. Don’t get all slushy and sentimental though, he still expects remuneration for his work. He has a hard-bitten, gritty approach to life, hardly a surprise really based on his chosen line of business, and his voice acts as our guide through his latest adventure. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call him a likable character, if you met him then something has probably gone badly wrong in your life, but he’s undoubtedly interesting. He lives by his own unique code of honour and the reader gets to discover more about this as the plot unfolds.

Based on the cover for The Wrong Quarry you may be forgiven for this thinking that this novel was set in the 40s or 50s but the action actually takes place in the early 80s. On the face of things, the plot is a relatively straightforward affair – a hitman has been hired to remove a target. Quarry offers his services to instead remove the assassin and find out the reasons behind the hit.  It’s those reasons that are the really intriguing bit. Collins’ writing deftly lifts the lid on the secrets that hide beneath the surface of small town America. Suffice to say, nothing is as ever quite as simple as it appears at first glance.

One thing that struck me as I read, was that almost without exception every single female character in the novel is eyed by Quarry as a potential conquest. Looking at it with modern eyes, this viewpoint towards women definitely isn’t going to win any awards for equality, but I kind of suspect that’s the point. The writing in this story is all about capturing the sights, sounds and even the attitudes of the era. Today, Quarry would be viewed as a walking stereotype. He is written as real man’s man, all booze, violence and broads. I’m sure there are some who will see this entire novel as a bit of an anathema, but I think it’s worth remembering that in noir crime reality always reads like it has been heightened to nth degree.

Everything has a slightly sleazy air about it, which in fairness does fit rather nicely with that whole hardboiled tone. This novel very definitely falls squarely into the realms of pulply escapism, and I was pleased to discover it’s not the least bit ashamed about it. A quick internet search reveals that this character has appeared in numerous other novels. I’m inclined to seek so of them out as I rather enjoyed my first Quarry adventure.

I’d imagine this novel would be ideal for anyone who enjoys his or her crime fiction with an episodic air. I felt like I was reconnecting with a favourite B-movie. Something that’s perhaps a little trashy but you can’t leave it alone until you get to the end.  We are talking guilty pleasure here people.

I’ll admit that I’ve not read any of the other Hard Case Crime books, there are quite a few available now, and based on this experience I wouldn’t be averse to giving some of the others a try. If this book is anything to go by they take great pains to capture/pay referential homage to their historic predecessors.

The Wrong Quarry is published by Hard Case Crime and is available from 10th January.

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