Quarry's Climax by Max Allan Collins

A short time ago Max Allan Collins offered up a few free copies of his new book: 

I've only read the first of the Quarry books (Quarry, originally published as The Broker in 1976, republished by Hard Case Crime along with all the others in the series). I was going to pick it up anyway, but I entered my name for the promotion just the same.  A week later to my happy surprise, a signed copy arrived at my home. 

* And of course once I realized I'd scored a free copy, I purchased one. I'm not a savage.

I finished it a couple of days ago but haven't had time to sit down to gather my thoughts on it. Luckily they aren't that complicated: I loved it. No lede-burying for me. It's great fun and pieced together with Collins' usual facility with pace, detail, and scene-setting. If you were looking for a great entrypoint into the series without necessarily starting at the beginning, this strikes me as a perfect opportunity.

I haven't, like I say, read more than this one and Quarry, so perhaps I'm not the most qualified to say. And I can't comment as to how events occurring here may reflect or refract events in other books (except one, more on that later) or moments that may have resonance unknown to the reader not in the know, etc. But at no point did that stand between me and the story or the character. 

So, short version - to paraphrase Jack Kirby - "it's great; go buy it!" Longer version, coming up.

Some of the other books in the series, with Hard Case's signature throwback covers by Robert McGinnis.

"There's Nothing More Dangerous Than a Loaded Magazine.

Memphis, 1975. 'Raunchy' doesn't begin to describe Max Climer's magazine, Climax, or his all-hour strip club, or his planned video empire. And evangelists, feminists, and local watchdog groups all want him out of business. But someone wants more than that and has hired a killer to end Max's career permanently. Only another hit man - the ruthless professional known as Quarry - can keep Climer from becoming a casualty in the Sexual Revolution."

So reads the back cover. The innuendo doesn't stop there, nor with the title. It would be an exaggeration to say every page has a naked woman or an erection or hardcore sex on it, but not by too terribly much. As befits the locale and subject matter, of course. Picture Boogie Nights with a hired killer wandering through the set, having his own movie. In Memphis. There's really little overlap with Boogie Nights, plotwise, just for its equally evocative recreation of the era and an industry.

Dropped into it all is Quarry, who partakes freely - as both a narrator and protagonist - and his partner Boyd, who does not. Being gay, Boyd's not tempted by the constant goings-on at the Climax Club. Their partnership - Quarry the active shooter, Boyd the passive "spotter" - has served them well on previous missions, but will it survive this one? 

Well, obviously, it will survive, as Quarry's Climax takes place before the events of Quarry. I'll avoid spoilers for Q's C, but as Quarry came out in 1976, I feel fine telling you Boyd's murder is a pivotal part of its plot. Does anything in this one foreshadow that one? Absolutely, in a particularly cinematic chapter where Boyd and Quarry work the first part of their assignment: take out the pair of assassins hired to do the job on Climer that the Broker turned down in the beginning. (The second - find who hired them.)

This chapter is in many ways the novel's most interesting, as the other team is a homosexual couple, which causes Boyd and Quarry both some existential panic. Not in a homophobic way or anything stupid, in a through-the-looking-glass way for their own assassination-team dynamic. It unhinges Boyd a bit more than it does Quarry, and the chapter ends with Quarry wondering ominously "How many more jobs does this guy have in him?"

"The idea behind Quarry was twofold. I'd already followed my other mentor Donald E. Westlake into writing about a thief. (Bait Money was an homage to his Richard Stark-bylined Parker series, homage being French for 'rip-off'). I had trained to write private eye fiction but the times were wrong for cop heroes - cops were guys with nightsticks clubbing friends of mine at the '68 Chicago Convention. So the antihero crook was a convenient retreat for a writer who was (as my first agent Knox Burger put it) 'a blacksmith in an automotive age.' But I thought Parker and Nolan were to some degree cop-outs. They were "good" bad-guy thieves - oh sure, hard-bitten as hell, but they stole mainly money and killed other bad guys. In the '60s, banks and the Establishment were worthy targets of fantasy revenge. Also "Richard Stark" and I wrote our crook books in the third person. Safe. Detached.

"I wanted to take it up a notch - my "hero" would be a hired killer. The books would be in first person (...) And Quarry himself would be somebody like me, just a normal person in his early twenties - not a child of poverty or cursed by a criminal background, but a war-damaged Vietnam veteran. I had a good friend (now deceased) who was very much like Quarry - a sweet, smart, funny guy who had learned to kill people for 'Uncle Sugar.'

That's the author from his afterword to Quarry. I was reminded of this in this passage from Quarry's Climax: "(The Broker) understood that I resented having been paid and even honored by my country for killing a bunch of yellow people for no fucking reason in particular and then getting villi-fucking-fied for murdering a single goddamn white son of a bitch who had it coming." 

Quarry's a great character to hang a series on, though. His job offers an endless possibility of locales - although Collins' intent at the onset was to set most of them in the then-neglected Midwest; "regionalism was just around the corner for mystery fiction but I didn't know that at the time" - and it puts him one step over the line of similar protagonists: the ones just mentioned as well as someone like Travis McGee. Quarry adds an agreeably American New Wave (esque) element to the mix.

And like another serialized assassin of British extraction, Quarry has very definite opinions on and observations of men's fashion ("his leisure jacket - a plaid number from the Who Shot the Couch collection"), cuisine, although Quarry is concerned mainly with the ratio of soda-to-water in fountain drinks and properly cooked cheeseburgers, and interior decor: 

"We entered a make-believe world of moire wallpaper draperies, gold crystal chandeliers, and terrazzo floors, dazzled and dazed as our barely dressed hostess casually flipped a hand here and flipped a hand there. Each room was dominated by a single color, like the formal green living room with an elaborate single color, like the formal green living room with an elaborate mint fireplace, and a sunken area with a pair of shamrock-and-white curved couches on moss carpeting facing each other over an endless laurel-tinted glass coffee table, while in the background (adorning windows that looked out onto a swimming pool that was thoughtlessly blue) emerald drapes hung like slick seaweed, the space extending into an equally leprechaun dining room."
"You can't put the genie back in the bottle, particularly if it's Barbara Eden."

Those two quotes are from different parts of the novel, and I hadn't intended to put them together like that. But I kind of like the effect of doing so. 

A few words on the recently-cancelled Cinemax TV show, which I haven't seen. Rather than adapting any of the Quarry books, it began with his interim period between Vietnam and working for the Broker. I look forward to checking it out. For one, it has the author's approval, and two:

Logan Marshall Green plays the title character.

Logan is a guy I used to work with at summer camp in Rhode Island many moons ago. We actually both got fired in tandem from said camp, but I'll save that one for the time-travel talk show circuit with Johnny Carson. We were never close buds, don't mean to suggest otherwise, but I've hell-yeah'd his career ever since. And not just because we used to work (and got fired) together, but because he's a hell of an actor. And - from my albeit limited perspective on the character - a hell of a choice to play Quarry. 

It's a shame the show got cancelled before they could really delve into the books. Collins wrote an episode ("His Deeds Were Scattered," ep6) and I look forward to seeing it.

When not writing books, Max Allan Collins is the president * of the burgeoning Catalan republic. 

 * I can't be the only one who sees this.


  1. (1) "An Erection On Every Page!" -- Now THAT would be a blurb.

    (2) Interesting to write a novel partially about a sleazy sex-mag publisher and then name him after yourself.

    (3) Is it possible to pretend that team of homosexual assassins is Wint and Kidd?

    (4) The Vietnam-vet-teamed-with-a-gay-man aspect sounds a bit like Joe R. Lansdale's "Hap and Leonard" books, which (I believe) came after this. Hmm...

    (5) "Quarry is concerned mainly with the ratio of soda-to-water in fountain drinks" -- This is a character I can get behind!

    (6) Oh, crap! I didn't realize until I got to this point in your post that that Cinemax show was semi-based on these books. I didn't see any of it, but it looked pretty good from the promos I saw.

    (7) El Presidente Collins! Absolutely.

    (8) These sound pretty awesome. I now have yet another series of books to want to read!

    1. (6) Review coming soon! It's pretty damn good, actually. Too bad it didn't catch fire.

      (7) Right?! Literally every time I see a news item on this, I think it's Max Allan Collins in the picture.

      (8) You and me both, brother.

  2. Somebody was kind enough to give me a copy of this novel, which I've just finished reading.

    New thoughts:

    (1) I thought it was great. I can't say for sure if I will read the other novels, but I wouldn't rule it out, and the temptation is strong.

    (2) I've recently managed to track down some of the adult magazines that Stephen King published in during the seventies, and while I've only skimmed them, some of them -- Cavalier and Gallery, for example -- seem to have been more substantial than I would have thought beforehand. I couldn't help but think about this when considering "Climax," the fictional magazine.

    (2) I'm sure hashtagger types would object to some -- to a LOT, actually -- of the content here, and I dearly hope they can manage to avoid reading these books and thereby avoid being upset. Me? I thought it was a blast, and that the content was appropriate to the setting.

    (3) Collins' prose is good enough that it makes me want to just stop everything I'm doing in life and become an expert in hard-boiled crime fiction. ROBOT BODY RIGHT THE FUCK NOW. Not doable, but, again, tempting.

    (4) Because my memory is abysmal, I'd forgotten everything about the novel that you mentioned in this review of it. This is a bad thing for my memory, but a good thing for my reading. So, for example, when it got to the parts where Quarry gets super judgmental about the way fountain Coca-Colas are mixed, I did not remember giving it a big thumbs-up in my previous comments here. BUT, in a sign that I remain more or less consistent despite a shoddy memory, I mentally gave it a big thumbs-up when reading it within the novel itself. Because really, this is a character I can relate to, if only in this one regard. But in this regard, 100%.

    (5) I don't know if the character began this way or evolved into it, but this really does seem to be a stab at creating an American James Bond. And it's a pretty fucking good stab, I'd say.

    1. (2) I like "Hashtagger" types. As a term not as a subset of the species. Or as a viable way of life. #EnoughWithTheHashtags #DamnIt! #DamnItTwice!!

      (3) I hear you! Plus, too, he's written like 100+ books. And writing more as we speak!

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  3. This should be the point where the character sees what the things he has been doing should be what he has been doing. final push