Quarry’s Ex – Max Allan Collins

5 out of 5


After having read a few Quarry books and knowing about what to expect – glib killings; a practical and cold – but emotive – assassin; some raunchy sex – I went in to this 2011 edition prepared to deal with some of Collins’ indulgences, though happy to do so: ’cause the man writes a tight, exciting bit of pulp.

Quarry’s Ex mostly follows the outline above, but it’s sharpened up even more, almost all excess sheared off and distilled down to essentials: time and place; beats of the mystery; procedures of the kills; and just the right dash – for my tastes, anyway – of erotica. So the rating may be misleading in that it’s not necessarily a mind-blowing pulp to give a new reader and convert them to the scene, but as an example of the genre, it is quite perfect, and is one of my favorite Quarry books to date.

Our known-to-us-as-Quarry assassin is up to his post-Broker activities again, and we pick him up in Nevada, hanging around a movie set and finding his fellow assassins, studying them to determine their mark. For Quarry is a hunter of hunters, though not out of the goodness of his heart: he’ll approach the intended target, explain the situation, then name a price to put down the killers. This time around it’s a B-film director, in production on a sequel to a relatively big hit, and Quarry puts himself up as a P.R. director on the set, giving Collins the chance to teach his character – and us – some of the ins and outs of the trade while our man goes about his job. But who set these killers in motion? …And thus the motivator for the book’s central mystery, which circles around the ex-Playmate fling, her mob beau, the handsome leading man, and another – Quarry’s ex-wife, the woman whose actions could be said to have sent him down his path as a killer.

Collins is smart about her introduction: it’s right there in the title, so no reason to play it cagey. He also stays true to Quarry, and doesn’t try to dig too deep into feelings, or arguments, or apologies, but the two do talk, and the conversations feel just right – giving us just enough of the human in Quarry, and just enough understanding of who his ex might be as well. And while the stuff is ultimately a minor beat, the same control is applied to the movie biz stuff – Collins isn’t trying to school us on it, but also doesn’t shy away from talking shop when it makes sense to. It’s all very natural, which makes the sudden bursts of violence especially visceral, and close scrapes especially tense.

Just over 200 pages, Quarry’s Ex is dialed in – exactly what it needs to be to be the most effective, and nothing more, rather akin to Quarry’s practicality when doling out his kills for hire.