We recently chatted with Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime, about the company's latest offering in the Quarry series by Max Allan Collins. He discussed the titular anti-hero and his appeal.
There are a lot of books and films about existential and/or anti-heroic hitmen (or hitwomen). What distinguishes the Quarry series?
For one thing, he came first: before Lawrence Block’s Keller, for instance, and before any other hitman protagonists I can remember. Quarry first appeared in a novel way back in 1976, and he’s been going strong ever since. That also makes him by far the longest-running hitman character, having appeared in 14 novels (and a graphic novel) over the course of 43 years.
The books are unusual in that they jump around in time, rather than having been written or published in chronological sequence: the first one we published was THE LAST QUARRY, which as its title suggests tells the final story in Quarry’s long history; then we went back in time with THE FIRST QUARRY; and we’ve bounced around ever since.
And Quarry’s activities have changed a lot in the various periods of his life. First he was a hitman working for a murder-for-hire “broker” who sent him out on assignments. Then he broke free from the broker and for several years he made his living by following other hitmen to their intended targets and sold his services to those targets, offering to kill the other hitmen for a fee. And when that ran its course, Quarry went into retirement – but found himself drawn back into the life for a few special assignments.
As a result of all of the above, Quarry is a more thoroughly rounded and extensively developed character than a lot of the one-note hitmen you see in films, videogames and other books.
The fact that Quarry’s career began in the Vietnam era and that the books are now historical novels exploring that time period (as was the Cinemax miniseries based on the books) also sets them apart from books and films that put their hitmen into 21st century situations.
What is the appeal of the hitman genre?
I think we all like to read about lawbreakers – people who break the rules of society and get away with it. That’s why starring burglars and heist artists and so on are so popular. It’s fun to see someone who’s good at what he does getting away with it, even when the “it” in question is murder. Hitmen specifically are interesting, I think, because it’s a challenge to have a character do pretty much the worst thing we can imagine – kill someone – and yet be sympathetic and not unpleasant company for 200+ pages. That’s a challenge for a writer and it’s fun to see how each writer approaches it, whether it’s through a compelling narrative voice or choosing victims who clearly are themselves even worse criminals than the hitman and thus deserve their fate, or in some other way. Max Allan Collins does all these things: Quarry’s narration is a pleasure to read, his victims are awful human beings, and Collins uses every trick in the book to make us root for what would normally be a bad guy.
What is the plot to the next book?
KILLING QUARRY is set during the second phase of Quarry’s career, when he tracks other hitmen down to the location of their latest assignment, finds out who the intended victim is, and then offers his services to the victim. But this time around, when Quarry follows the killer to the victim’s home…he discovers it’s actually his OWN home: Quarry himself is the victim someone has taken out a contract on. This is the first time Quarry finds himself on the wrong end of a hit and he has to team up with an old flame to get to the bottom of why someone has marked him for death.
How many of these has Hardcase published?
We have published all 14 Quarry novels, although the first five predate us – we bought the right to reissue those five when Cinemax was airing the Quarry miniseries. Between those five and the other nine which we originated, we’ve published the whole series. Even the graphic novel, QUARRY’S WAR!
What is next for the character?
That’s the big question isn’t it? It depends on what Max feels like writing, I suppose. I admit he’s given me a few hints about what Quarry’s next assignment might be. But if I told you, I’d have to kill you…