After the old guard of mystery/hard-boiled/detective writers mostly died out about 10 years ago, Max Allan Collins (1948- ) has quietly assumed their mantle of greatness. I’m thinking in particular of Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, and Donald Westlake. Collins was a disciple of Spillane, became his friend, and has collaborated with Spillane and completed many of Spillane’s manuscripts after his death in 2006. Collins has been remarkably prolific, kind of like an old-time pulp magazine writer translated into a modern context. Much of his work has been hack work, like a seemingly endless stream of movie tie-ins, but that’s just a pulp writer making a steady living. It doesn’t detract from his art, which is basic blood and guts stuff from the hard-boiled school.
Quarry inaugurated a long-running series about a contract killer, which has in recent years found a home in Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime imprint. Collins writes about how the first in the series was originally drafted in student writing workshops at the University of Iowa starting in 1971. One gets the distinct impression of witnessing a young author learning how to write. The first third of the book seems clumsier and more forced, and then Collins hits his groove as the story kicks into high gear with a contract hit gone wrong. And you are left wanting more by the sour taste of learning why a contract killer can’t keep a girlfriend, because basically, no matter how worldly wise and experienced she is as a lover, it’s hard to be with a guy who. . . well. . . kills people for a living.
Part of the fascination of this series is seeing how Collins comes up with new stories after Quarry kills off one of his main characters in the first book, the Broker who hires him to do the hits. There are 14 Quarry books to date, with a 15th expected in November, 2019 (Killing Quarry).