MAX ALLAN COLLINS: Writing "The Wrong Quarry"

Written by Max Allan Collins

MAX ALLAN COLLINS was hailed in 2004 by Publisher's Weekly as “a new breed of writer.” A frequent Mystery Writers of America “Edgar” nominee in both fiction and non-fiction categories, he has earned an unprecedented eighteen Private Eye Writers of America “Shamus” nominations, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective (1983) and Stolen Away (1991), receiving the PWA life achievement award, the Eye, in 2007.  His graphic novel Road to Perdition (1998) is the basis of the Academy Award-winning 2002 film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Daniel Craig, directed by Sam Mendes. It was followed by two acclaimed prose sequels, Road to Purgatory (2004) and Road to Paradise (2005), and a graphic novel sequel, Return to Perdition (2011). He has written a number of innovative suspense series, including Nolan (the author’s first series, about a professional thief), Quarry (the first series about a hired killer), and Eliot Ness (four novels about the famous real-life Untouchable’s Cleveland years). He is completing a number of “Mike Hammer” novels begun by the late Mickey Spillane, with whom Collins did many projects.



At the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop in the late sixties and early seventies, I was facing the draft, and had friends already serving in Vietnam.  As it happened, I never had to go, but I felt that war was all around me.  I decided to explore my feelings in a crime novel.

I’d loved private eye fiction and police procedurals since childhood.  But by the late sixties, the private eye genre seemed dead...and police were just guys with nightsticks clubbing students at the ‘68 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  (In a few years, I would revise these feelings enough to write the DICK TRACY comic strip.)

Caper movies and “crook books” seemed a response to the times.  I particularly admired Richard Stark’s tough series about professional thief Parker.  The first novel I sold, Bait Money (1973), was about a similar thief.  But such books had a cop-out element – these criminal anti-heroes never killed any civilians, and their stories were told in the third-person, at a safe distance.

I wanted to take it another step.  My protagonist, Quarry, would be a hired killer.  Not an underworld character, but a fairly typical Baby Boomer guy who’d seen much violent action in Nam.  On his return, he finds his wife in bed with another guy, and kills him.  After all the meaningless sanctioned killings he committed in Vietnam, the one time he killed for a reason, he becomes a pariah.  This would be my “hero.”  And his story would be told in the first-person.  You wouldn’t be at a safe remove from Quarry, who seems normal and funny and recognizably one of us.

On another level, the early Quarry novels meant to demonstrate that we all had become numb to violence and death courtesy of that war, which Americans learned about on the nightly news as they ate their TV dinners off trays.

The first novel (Quarry, 1976) was designed to be a standalone thriller.  But when I was asked to do more, I quickly said yes.  Soon Quarry evolved from a professional killer into a killer of professional killers, and that’s where we find him in The Wrong Quarry.

Don’t get me wrong – the Quarry novels are anything but political tracts.  They are black comedies filled with sex and violence, often described as gritty but also as very funny. 

Which is good, because that’s what I’m going for.

Read an extract of The Wrong Quarry

(Author Photo © Mike Stotter)
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