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THE WRONG QUARRY
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, January 2014
221 pages
$9.95
ISBN: 1781162662


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

There are readers of a certain age who grew up on pulp fiction. The hard-boiled detective, the woman of presumably easy virtue, the bad guy whose behind-the-scenes machinations made life difficult for all concerned - the broadly drawn characters and wonderful cover art made famous by the Dell publishing company. If your Shell Scott stories are carefully kept in plastic bags because the pages have long ago come away from the binding, you are in luck. Hard Case Crime has come to your rescue. So has Max Allan Collins.

Many mystery readers know of Collins because of his historical mysteries, others will know him for his television and movie credits. He has added another sub-genre to his prolific body of work. John R. Quarry (so not his real name) is a hit man, a killer for hire. Collins has added a wonderful twist to this time-honored profession. Quarry has a list of hit men. He picks one and tails him or her to find out who the prospective victim is. Then he makes that person a proposition. For a certain sum, Quarry will take out the hired killer(s). For an additional sum, he will also take out the person who took out the hit. Most people who have upset anyone enough to be a prospective victim find this a very good deal. Quarry figures that in the long run, he's doing very well by doing good (to quote Tom Lehrer).

The intended victim in THE WRONG QUARRY is a dance instructor in a small town in Missouri. This guy also grooms teenage girls for beauty pageants. His sin is that the local big cheese is convinced that his granddaughter was killed by said dance instructor. There is no proof of this; the prevailing wisdom is that she ran away to make a name for herself. Grandpa is not convinced. Quarry makes his deal with the victim and runs afoul of the big cheese in the process.

All the elements of classic pulp fiction are in this book. Collins knows his stuff. The story starts slowly but it's that classic roller-coaster ride at the end. Quarry has a bit more self-awareness than some of the hard-boiled men from the original classics, but certainly not enough to make him remotely metro-sexual. The women are either pure or not, although the grey area seems much wider in Collins' world. Even the cover art has that classic Dell look to it: a crag-faced man with a gun and a pulchritudinous woman falling out of a short red nightie in the background. Gotta love it.

P.J. Coldren lives in northern lower Michigan where she reads and reviews widely across the mystery genre when she isn't working in her local hospital pharmacy.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, January 2014

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