by Max Allan Collins
With the Quarry series you pretty much know what you're going to get. This installment was no exception. Quarry is a ruthless Vietnam War veteran hit man with, if not quite a heart of gold, then at least a healthy respect for doing things the right way. Generally speaking if you're not on the list then you are as safe as a new born babe around Quarry. He's not the type to lose his temper and run around murdering people because someone insulted him or dented his fender. Live and let live is Quarry's motto, well at least it is when he's not removing someone from the planet for pay. Quarry lives by a code you see. As this book, a reprint from the late eighties opens, Quarry is living the dream life. After some unpleasantness from earlier stories, Quarry is retired from the murder-for hire game. He has fallen in love with a much younger woman, Linda and somewhat impulsively married her. Linda is good looking, busty, sweet, young and naive, which is just what Quarry likes. Linda doesn't know anything about Quarry's past. She doesn't understand Quarry's infrequent cold moods or know about the numerous guns, cash and fake id's that Quarry has stashed around their home and elsewhere. All she understands is that Quarry is a quiet man who loves her. And Quarry does love her, to the extent that someone considered the deadliest killer in the continental United States can love someone. By Quarry's own admission he's head over heels in love with Linda. He has learned things about himself that he didn't know. By his standards he's gotten soft and fat. He and Linda operate a Midwestern hotel, diner and gas station.
The money's not great but Quarry isn't hurting for money. Quarry has found peace. In fact Linda has just informed him that he's going to be a father. Well you know that bad men like Quarry can never truly find peace. One day when Linda is away a man whom Quarry has never seen before stops by Quarry's house.
This unwanted visitor offends Quarry. He doesn't like strangers stopping by his home uninvited. The man, who drives a BMW with obscured plates, knows Quarry's name and his previous line of work. It's an election year. The man would like Quarry to assassinate a fringe political candidate, Preston Freed, who might garner just enough votes to act as a spoiler. Think Lyndon LaRouche or Ross Perot. It's a million dollar contract. But Quarry has seen this act before. He knows that political hits usually end up with the hitter being permanently silenced in order to tie up loose ends. He declines the contract. And when the man makes the unforgivable mistake of mentioning all the nice things Quarry could do with the payment for his wife, Quarry narrowly avoids releasing the beast inside him that's starting to awake. He orders the man away. Quarry has a bad feeling about this fellow. There was a time when merely approaching Quarry without prior permission and introduction would have meant winding up six feet under. Quarry can't stop wondering how this man found him and if he shouldn't have killed the man on general principle. Quarry soon has reason to regret his inaction when other hitmen invade his home and murder his wife and brother-in-law. Now the beast is fully awakened. Quarry is back.
Although revenge is the overarching theme of the novel this is not, repeat not a shoot-em up. It's really more of a detective novel with a morally damaged hero. It hearkens back to various noir movies and books from the thirties and forties. Quarry is not a superman, deadly though he is. He has to figure out who knew his location, who the hitmen were, where they came from, and most importantly who took out the contract on Preston Freed. Quarry is not initially a sympathetic protagonist but becomes so because of his love for Linda, his protection of women throughout the story and the fact that Quarry's deadliest weapon is not his gun but his brain. Quarry isn't an unfeeling sort, something which comes to a surprise to him occasionally. Quarry notices a lot because his job requires him to do so. This was a quick enjoyable read. There's very little wasted prose here. There's a fair share of black humor.