Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Max Allan Collins, Quarry [a.k.a. The Broker] (1976)

If Max Allan Collins hadn’t written his Nolan novels, then Quarry would probably be known as his last-name-only homage to Richard Stark’s Parker. Collins freely admits that Nolan was a Parker rip-off, but he explains (in his afterword to the recently reissued Quarry) that with his Quarry novels he wanted to “take it up a notch” from the Parker/Nolan novels in two ways: First, Quarry would be a professional killer (rather than a professional thief). Second, Quarry would tell his own story in the first person (rather than the more detached third person of Parker/Nolan).

The plot contours of Quarry follow the typical Parker novel almost exactly: The book begins quickly and violently, then slows down as Quarry and a confederate plan a job. The job seems to go well at first, but then turns sour. At this point, if Quarry were smart, he would cut and run, but can’t bring himself to do it. He stays in town to make things right, which means, in part, recovering the fee for his job, which was stolen from him. The novel ends with Quarry at home, making contact with a woman he met while on the job. In sum, it’s a Parker novel.

As for Collins’ changes to the formula: The switch from thief to killer is not much of a change, given how much killing Parker does in the course of his work. Indeed, if you compare Quarry to The Hunter (the first Parker novel), there is nothing in Quarry half as chilling as the scene in The Hunter in which Parker accidentally kills the owner of a beauty shop, and the overall carnage in The Hunter is greater. As for the switch to a first-person narrative (and Collins’ decision to make Quarry “somebody just like [himself], just a normal person in his early twenties”), the result is that Quarry is more human and thus a less frightening character than Parker. The switch to first person also has the effect of simplifying the storytelling in Quarry. Among the most consistently entertaining aspects of the Parker novels are Stark’s clever and surprising shifts in time and point of view, which would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish in the first person.

All of this is not to criticize or condemn the Quarry books; rather, it is just to say that they exist very much in Parker’s shadow. As for the first Quarry book, Quarry is well worth reading. If you’re familiar with the Parker books, then Quarry will seem familiar too, but if you kept reading the Parker books after you read the first few, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give the first Quarry a try. Grade: B-

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