Fans of men’s action-adventure place Max Allan Collins’ Quarry series in the top-tier of the genre along with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm and Richard Stark’s Parker. The former Vietnam War sniper turned hitman debuted in 1976 and has been a source of great entertainment ever since. The best news is that the author remains alive and well, and he periodically cranks out another 200-page Quarry novel - coupled with outstanding Hard Case Crime cover art - to the delight of genre fans.
Quarry in the Black is the 2017 entry in the series, but the series has always been unstuck in time. This particular story takes place in 1972 when Quarry was still accepting assassination jobs from his original boss, The Broker. The arrangement always made a lot of sense: The Broker deals with the client, and Quarry deals with the victim - sometimes with a passive partner who handles the surveillance, leaving Quarry to manage the kill. Quarry’s favorite partner, the gay-before-it-was-fashionable Boyd, is assigned to work with Quarry on this hit.
This one is a little different. Quarry is offered $25,000 to kill a charismatic black civil rights leader, Reverend Raymond Wesley Lloyd, who is campaigning for George McGovern to beat Richard Nixon in the 1972 U.S. Presidential Election. Quarry rightly recoils from the gig because Reverend Lloyd seems like an unobjectionable fellow - peaceful, anti-war, and espousing a strong anti-drug platform. Despite his chosen profession, Quarry has a decent moral compass and has no desire to become the next James Earl Ray. After The Broker gives Quarry some reason to believe that this Reverend isn’t the next Martin Luther King, he reluctantly takes the gig.
Collins does a fantastic job of capturing the zeitgeist of the post-burglary, pre-resignation, Nixon-Watergate era. He cites the era’s music blasting at Quarry’s every turn making me wish someone would create a classic-rock Quarry in the Black Spotify playlist to be used as a soundtrack while reading this paperback. Moreover, real-life public figures from the era have cameos in the novel, adding to the authentic feel of this retro effort. Collins even gives a nod to current events as Quarry is forced to tangle with a violent white-power group based in the all-Caucasian enclave of Ferguson, Missouri.
The central mystery of this - and most - Quarry stories is the identity and true agenda of the client paying for the hit. The Broker always keep’s the client’s identity from Quarry as a buffer of deniability if a job should go sideways. Inevitably, the full story eventually is revealed, and it usually explains the complications and bumps in the road that Quarry is forced to endure. Like the other novels, Quarry gets laid a few times in deliciously explicit detail, and the first-person narration is predictably hilarious.
There’s really nothing bad to say about Quarry in the Black. It’s another perfect entry in a legendary series. Hopefully, Collins stays energized and continues to come up with new Quarry stories for years to come. Highly recommended.
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