Monday, March 01, 2010


Most of you have seen Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Miller's Crossing, Omega Doom or Last Man Standing. I'm certain I'm not even unique in having seen all of them.

If you've seen even two of them, it's probably not hard to find the common thread, a thread that can likely be traced back to Red Harvest, or a similar work, by Dashiell Hammett, directly or indirectly.

The cover blurb for Quarry in the Middle tells us we're in similar territory, "The enigmatic hitman Quarry — star of seven celebrated novels and an award-winning feature film (The Last Lullaby) — is back in this violent, steamy tale of warring crime families. When two rival casino owners covet the same territory, guess who puts himself in the crossfire..."

Author Max Allan Collins signals that he knows what he's doing when he writes, "... I parked on the far side of the lot, near where the glimmering black strip of the Mississippi River reflected the lights of the ancient steel toll bridge joining River’s Bluff, Iowa, and Haydee’s Port, Illinois.

"Everybody I’d talked to so far, which wasn’t many admittedly, seemed to shorten it to Haydee’s. And from the glimpse I’d got of the little town, they might have been saying Hades, and meaning it."

This corresponds nicely to "Red Harvest", where Hammett wrote, "I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better."

None of this is to suggest that "Quarry in the Middle" is a ripoff. In fact, Collins's novel is much further from any of those other works than they are from each other. Just that it's worth noting that we're in familiar territory here. For some of us, particularly comfortable territory. The fact that Collins is ready to twist this around in new and unexpected ways is part of the fun of the ride.

And it is a fun ride, meeting a jazz singing casino owner, the stripper with a kid and perhaps a "heart of gold", a thuggish mobster with a penchant for poker... Perhaps all clichés themselves, but, like the story, given more than enough of a twist to give them dimension and character of their own beyond that, while still giving that initial comfortable feeling.

The pace is quick, with a sure touch at entertaining the reader. It's not my favorite Quarry novel, but it'll sit comfortably on my shelf with the others. It's a fun ride.

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