Skip to main content


October 29, 2015

The Early Quarry Novels of Max Allan Collins

This is exciting news for mystery fans, along with fans of the prolific writer Max Allan Collins. The five early Quarry novels by Collins will be re-released with gorgeous Robert McGinnis pulp covers between now and March by Hard Case Crime.

In 1971, Collins was a student in the University of Iowa’s Writers' Workshop. His thesis project was to develop three novels that demonstrated that crime fiction could be written using a common Midwestern small town. One of them featured a hitman named Quarry. Collins published three Quarry novels in 1976, one in 1977 and a final one in 1987. 

Then Quarry disappeared until he was brought back by Collins, with the help of Charles Ardai, publisher and editor of Hard Case Crime, in an original novel in 2006. Six additional new Quarry books have been published by Hard Case since, with another, QUARRY IN BLACK, due in 2016. This is Hard Case doing what they do best, making us aware of great noir fiction we might not know about. And, in this case, giving the author a new life with his creation.

In the 30 years between Quarry’s creation and reemergence, the series became a cult favorite. Student Collins was trying to model his early work on the legendary mystery writer Donald E. Westlake. And he is fond of quoting Westlake: “A cult favorite is seven readers short of the author being able to make a living.” Once out of print, the original books were rare and worth serious money. In 2010, the originals were republished by a small press called Perfect Crime.

I discovered Quarry in 2006 through Hard Case. And I was intrigued enough to search out the first five books. And the more I read, the more I was convinced that this was one of the greatest characters ever created and one of the greatest series. I loved every word. Collins wrote about Quarry: “And Quarry himself would be someone like me, just a normal person in his early 20s --- 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.’”

Westlake had created the greatest noir anti-hero of all time in his books about the ruthless thief called Parker. You can root for amoral Parker, but he is written in the third person; he keeps his distance from us. But Collins did something truly unique with Quarry. By having him tell his stories in the first person, Quarry is one of us. And what was scary about Quarry is that he is not the typical psycho killer or mob enforcer. He refuses to be a stereotype. Yes, he kills for money, but not for kicks. In other words, he was a professional.

By setting it in the America of the 1970s --- a country that had just been through a decade of Vietnam, urban insurrections and the assassination of those who represented hope --- Collins said something about America. Quarry is a guy you can’t help but like; he is a guy you would like to have a beer with. But beneath the surface of this American was the darkness. “I wanted to make a comment about Americans in general,” Collins wrote, “that we had, through Vietnam, become numb to death. That we had grown used to watching body bags being loaded onto planes as we ate our TV dinners taking in the evening news.”

We live now in a world where American drones with names like “Predator” deal death from the sky in places all over the world, and it does not even make the nightly news. Talk about being numb to death! We often do not even know who we kill, the government itself admits, as was revealed recently by the latest whistleblower revelations in The Intercept news publication.

And when Collins was a student in the prestigious Writers' Workshop 40 years ago, genre fiction, such as mysteries and stories about hitmen, was still looked down upon by many. Noir was over and outdated. Film noir had not yet been rediscovered as a serious art form. The establishment view was that fiction should be serious. Collins calls himself “an eccentric black sheep at the workshop.”

And then he went on to become one of the greatest writers of the last half century by doing genre fiction, including comics, graphic novels, such as ROAD TO PERDITION, historical mysteries and screenplays.

The Collins/Quarry books being reissued by Hard Case Crime are:

QUARRY re-released on October 13, 2015. This is the first book in the series, originally published in 1976. It is here where we meet the broker who recruited and named his assassin. The story picks up five years into Quarry’s killing career. The first paragraph references a meeting in Howard Johnson’s. If you grew up in postwar America as a kid, like I did, you knew HoJo’s. These books resonate with America of the 1970s.

QUARRY’S LIST, to be re-published December 8, 2015. The second book in the series was also originally published in 1976. A hitman comes and tries to kill Quarry in the middle of the night. His sanctuary breached, Ouarry has no choice but to find the other hitman, and his search takes him to a beautiful blonde in a swimming pool. The list refers to the broker’s list of his assassins. They are all freelance killers, kind of like part-time workers today.

QUARRY’S DEAL, to be re-published on January 16, 2016. Also published originally in 1976, we find that with the broker list, Quarry has developed a profitable --- when he needs money --- business of following the hitmen to their next hit. He then offers the intended target his service of removing the hitman for a fee. A creative twist on the genre. Plus, look out for the greatest bathtub scene in noir history.

QUARRY’S CUT is due to be reissued on February 9, 2016. It was originally published in 1977. This time, Quarry needs to find out if a face from his past means he is being stalked. His journey takes him --- appropriately enough for the 1970s --- to the set of a porno shoot, which is being snowed in by a blizzard. Agatha Christie never wrote a book like this.

QUARRY’S VOTE is scheduled for reissue on March 8, 2016. This one Quarry published after the original quintet in 1987, and echoes down to our presidential election year. When Quarry refuses the job of assassinating a presidential candidate, he himself becomes a loose end that has to be eliminated. It was written almost a quarter century after the JFK hit, which had many loose ends to be eliminated.

The Quarry series is fast-paced, sexy, violent and entertaining. And if you cannot get enough, Quarry is coming to television in an eight-episode series that will air on Cinemax in 2016. Collins served as an executive producer on the show, which stars Logan Marshall-Green as Quarry. Read these books, and you will be ready to enjoy the series.