Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review: Quarry in the Middle

I don't normally do book reviews here -- like, prose book -- but I don't know where else to do one and I kind of want to. Last week, I received a copy of Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins in the mail despite it not being out until October 27. How? Well, the fine folks at Hard Case Crime held a contest in September where all you had to do was plug them on Twitter and then let them know you did it, and you would have a chance to win a copy of this book or another (whose title I forget) before they were released. And I won a copy! Yes, I know, I had some of you thinking that I'm important enough that I get sent free copies of things (I'm not and I don't), but, alas, I was just a lucky contest winner. However, that doesn't change the fact that I've received and read an 'advance reading copy' of this book that is not available for two weeks. A book I will now discuss.

This is the third Quarry book that Hard Case has published (The First Quarry and The Last Quarry being the two), but it's the eighth book starring the character apparently. I've read nothing featuring him before this book and that didn't hurt it at all. He's a pretty basic character: a hit man who used to get contracts through a middleman called the Broker, he now uses the Broker's list to stalk other hitmen, find out who they've been hired to kill, and, then, get the supposed victim to pay him to kill the hitman. It's an odd mix of being a fucking douchebag to his fellow killers and doing something somewhat good for the world and saving more than just this one life. Beyond that, Quarry (we never get his real name) is a basic enough guy, easy to relate to and step in line with.

In this novel, he tracks a hitman who specialises in hit-and-run 'accidents' to a pair of small towns on the border of Illinois and Iowa -- small, corrupt places where there's a silent war going on that goes all the way back to Chicago and two mob boss brothers who are each backing one side in a subtle game of one-upsmanship. There's the casino that isn't exactly legal but has class and the shitty stripclub/bar/danceclub/casino that isn't exactly legal and is a shithole. The hitman's victim is the casino owner and saving him puts Quarry into the middle of this little problem.

Collins writes the novel with Quarry as the narrator and he's a very self-conscious narrator, one that's aware that he's telling a story -- which is both good and bad. The good is that it cuts through a lot of the bullshit and it's more intimate. You feel like Quarry is telling you this story while you're sitting at a bar at times, giving it an appropraite tone. The bad is that... well, you and he are not sitting at a bar and, sometimes, the self-aware schtick just gets annoying because it can easily cross that line where you just want to scream, "Okay, I get it!"

The book is light and fluffy in its own way. It took me a few days to read it only because I read it in small doses, a chapter here and there. I think the last third took me maybe half an hour to forty minutes to read -- and I mean all of this as a good thing. This is a very readable book, Collins makes sure each chapter throws a new problem Quarry's way while advancing the plot, but it never feels forced. I don't think this will ever be anyone's favourite book, but unless you hate this sort of book I can't see many people disliking it either. It's a nice, light snack -- the kind that when you're through with it, you want another. I know I want to read the other Quarry novels now for sure. So, if you see this (or any other Hard Case Crime book), pick it up, you'll enjoy it.