It really gets under my skin when a book, or a film sells me on crime or sex or violence only to turn the tables on me with some stern or earnest-faced finger wagging in the final act. The gall, really. To blatantly appeal to my base appetites for this sort of thing, take my money and then deliver some half-way, luke-warm drivel. Ugh. So I know I’ve got a better chance of avoiding all that bogus shtick when I pick up a story about a criminal told from a criminal’s point of view. Skip all the ‘basically a good person who stumbles down the path of crime due to ridiculous and unfortunate circumstances’ baloney and give me the real thing. No hearts of gold lurking beneath my scum-bags’ skin. Character? Absolutely. Cuddliness? Never. Complexity? Please. Fuzzy ideas about victimless crime? Pass.
When it’s stark realism and a strong street-level contact high with thieves and killers that I want, I turn to Eddie Bunker’s semi-biographical novels or memoirs. When I want to dabble in the grey areas where criminal and entrepreneurial endeavors overlap into schemes so bizarrely straight-forward I can’t believe I haven’t read about them in the newspapers, I’ll pick up Elmore Leonard.
When I want a good old fashioned hardboiled tale, I go to Richard Stark, whose early Parker books have been re-printed in two formats: first, are the great new paperback editions and second are the hard cover graphic adaptations by Darwyn Cooke, (The Hunter and The Outfit). Garry Disher’s Wyatt books are another great criminal underworld series in a Parker-esque vein.
Max Allan Collins has written in just about every sub-genre of mystery and crime, but it’s his hit man Quarry who holds the most especialist place in my heart and like Stark’s early Parker books, Quarry’s first titles have just become available again through Perfect Crime Books.
In the mid 1970s, Collins wrote four books featuring the contract killer, who by the third title, (now called Quarry's Deal), has gone into business for himself getting to the targets of other professional killers first and offering his services to keep them alive by killing those hired to dispatch of them. They become a rather perverse slant on a typical mystery – in Deal, he’s staking out a killer to ascertain the target whom he proceeds to approach, once identified, and then works his way backward to whoever put out the hit. And in the fourth, (now titled Quarry's Cut), when he’s stuck in a ski lodge with the crew of a pornographic film production and someone starts killing off the stars, it becomes a kind of randy and gory And Then There Were None.
The original four titles, plus the mid-eighties volume have been re-issued, and you can round out the series with 2006’s The Last Quarry from Hard Case Crime. Speaking of which, when they role out their new line next year, Quarry’s Ex will be one of their first new ones. Quarry has also appeared in a feature film The Last Lullaby starring Tom Sizemore (with a name change - Price), and directed by Jeffrey Goodman. I’ve been waiting for it become available for too long. Can’t wait to see it, though, and I could be wrong here, but Price looks way more morose than Quarry ever came across in the trailer.
So, for unapologetically wrong side of the law fun and just about zero chance of redemption or remorse… These are all good places to start.
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.