361 By Donald E. Westlake: unique, hard-hitting brilliance brings hard-boiled gritty noir down an alley that you cannot leave until the book is done.
Hard Case Crime thankfully brings many treasures like 361 back to the forefront of fiction on today’s market.
Personally, despite loving crime, mystery, and hard-boiled fiction, I had yet to read a novel of Donald Westlake’s.
And here is the beauty of HCC’s paperback series: it is very easy for a good friend in the know to mail me a book that will kick my ass, and get me into gear, just like 361 did.
If you love Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collin’s Quarry series (to name one), then this 1962 publication will be very appealing and not the least because it is a style all Westlake’s own.
Warning, Will Robinson! This book review of 361 by Donald E. Westlake has Spoilers* for the opening pages.
Ray Kelly has landed in New York retired from his time abroad as a US military man. He feels bad at talking to his brother’s wife, who he has not met, on the phone to get directions. He cares about family.
When Ray’s father, Willard, picks him up and talks about how his brother settled down happily and then remarks how good his Ray looks after all those years, father and son break down crying.
Dad brags about the air conditioning in the car and remarks, “chased a lot of ambulances lately,” as he was an attorney with a good sense of humor.
Westlake has brought a happy family together and the pair drive over New York City’s George Washington Bridge in what has been an uplifting tale so far.
In 361, Westlake pulls one of the fastest literally punches to ever gut the main character and the reader.
And then a Chrysler pulls up beside them and fires a gun, so that Willard appears to vomit blood and falls over into Ray’s lap as the car hits the bridge barrier.
A month later, Ray wakes in a hospital minus an eye and his one leg shattered and put back together in a way that would leave him with a debilitating limp.
End of Spoiler Warning*
Westlake pulled the rug out from under me so quickly I nearly dropped the book.
Readers beware of Donald E. Westlake, whose use of realistic dialogue, rich character feeling, and sharp descriptions make up boisterously boiled worlds that are increasingly intriguing as the tale winds on.
The plot gets harrier and harrier as it goes on too.
There are some mysteries and some surprises.
And 361’s ending is wholly original, utterly pragmatic, and very satisfying.
Hard Case Crime’s QUARRY by Max Allan Collins hits hard, and that is whether you use the large paperback to ‘interrogate,’ or merely to read the first brilliant tale of the assassin Quarry.
Max Allan Collins is the author of The Road To Perdition, and has many brilliant series, including two of my personal favorites: the Nathan Heller series of hard boiled historical fiction and the Quarry series.
In Quarry, the writing is truly inspired in both the visceral characters, the phenomenal pacing, and the sharp-edged language.
The flat-out villainous protagonist might have a little of the ‘hero’ in anti-hero in him . . . or he might not.
The innovative character and story make for something special, which is why Hard Case Crime decided to republish the series, after 30 years, in a gorgeous large paperback small press edition with a painted cover by legendary artist Robert McGinnis.
The following book review will feature both an in-depth look at the book, Quarry, and then an examination of the Hard Case Crime treatment of Collins’ tale.
Quarry: the following book review will be *Spoiler-free, as the plot reveals are vital to the story, so we omitted them.
Here is the story synopsis, and the review continues below it.
Paperback Published in October 2015 by Hard Case Crime
THIS IS IT—WHERE QUARRY’S STORY ALL BEGAN.
AND ANOTHER LIFE ENDED.
The assignment was simple: stake out the man’s home and kill him. Easy work for a professional like Quarry. But when things go horribly wrong, Quarry finds himself with a new mission: learn who hired him, and make the bastard pay.
NOW A CINEMAX TELEVISION SERIES!
The longest-running series from Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition, and the first ever to feature a hitman as the main character, the Quarry novels tell the story of a paid assassin with a rebellious streak and an unlikely taste for justice. Once a Marine sniper, Quarry found a new home stateside with a group of contract killers. But some men aren’t made for taking orders—and when Quarry strikes off on his own, god help the man on the other side of his nine-millimeter…
QUARRY comes to Cinemax in Fall 2015
The original Quarry novels return to bookstores for the first time in 30 years
Featuring cover paintings by the legendary Robert McGinnis
Quarry’s tale is truly ground-breaking.
To Quarry, his work with contract killers, and especially dealing with a man called the Broker who he has relied on for finding him work and payment is all just part of a “pain-in-the-ass job.”
Quarry was a sniper in the Vietnam War who has become a hit-man for hire as he continues to try to acclimate to the country he has returned home to.
What this does is make for someone with possible PTSD who does not like to play with others, unless she is lonely for a night, and his inability to interact with others has limited his scope of work.
He sees the killing, lying, and all that comes with it, and acting without the least bit of empathy, as part of his journey.
He wants to go on living, to go on making money killing, and to not be screwed over, because someone is always trying to screw him over, jeopardizing his money or his life.
The pace is furiously frantic at the start of the book and in a few pages there is the heinous threatening to murder a priest at an airport, or is he really a priest, and it makes its mark on the reader immediately.
The pacing will vary as the present situation of betrayal slows things down, and Quarry thinks out his next moves.
So as a reader you get to catch your breath and become a part of the observations and thoughts of Quarry.
The only gripe I have with the novel, if you can call it a gripe, is that the characters are so interesting I wish there were a few more of them.
Quarry, his too often sauced part-time partner in crime, the Broker, and of course, the dames, are all written so well … I want more.
But I guess that is why there are sequels!
Quarry’s boss the Broker’s webs of crime, and a change in protocol for Quarry’s job make for an interesting bit of mystery.
The world is utterly real and grimy, as is the rough speech of the man known only as Quarry, and even the women he tries to consume for a night’s pleasure do not get much sympathy from him.
The psychopath in Quarry and the morals that jump out when you least expect them are just as mysterious and engrossing as the story itself.
It is easy to get lost in Quarry’s world and the pages leap bye as your stomach does somersaults.
All of the hard-boiled noir in Quarry cuts the reader deep, as Quarry the man is tortured by his brain and throes of violence throughout the book.
This kicks off a truly remarkable series brilliantly.
Hard Case Crime brings back Quarry in a big badass paperback.
The dime paperbacks of pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective fiction, great sci-fi and fantasy and horror spawned so many incredible tales and all for an affordable price and in a format that was easily taken anywhere.
Hard Case Crime was created by Charles Ardai and Max Phillips, and their vision was to relaunch another golden paperback era with great tales, but in a slightly bigger format to make great use of the cover art that has been fantastic for at least eighty years of mass market books.
So, the small press Hard Case Crime was founded and for the Quarry series, for example, the great Robert McGinnis of James Bond art infamy was brought in to make stunning cover portraits that grace the 5+ inches x 8+ inches books.
Sometimes Hard Case Crime creates hardcovers and limited editions as well.
At their core, they have a unique vision, and I will let them tell it:
From World War II through the 1960s, paperback crime novels were one of the fastest-selling categories in book publishing. Millions of readers snapped up hundreds of millions of books by well-known authors like Erle Stanley Gardner and Mickey Spillane, as well as by promising young newcomers like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. These inexpensive, pocket-sized novels captured the public’s imagination with jaw-dropping cover paintings and bare-knuckled prose that grabbed you by the collar with the first sentence and held you until the last page. No one had published books like that in years.
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. The first Heller in almost a decade, the Marilyn Monroe-oriented Bye Bye, Baby (2011), will be followed in 2012 by Target Lancer, the long-promised JFK Heller novel.
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; the fourth of these, Lady Go, Die!, was published in 2012.
P.S. If You Want To Know A Little More About How The Forgotten Fiction Is Different & Our Mission . . .
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To bolster every author who puts out a work of fiction long after the initial buzz that accompanied its release. This is something that is usually left to an expensive public relations manager or company and even with all of their powers of marketing / PR are limited in where they can place the book months after its launch. This includes limited edition and small press publications, like Suntup Editions, that are also reviewed for their physical beauty, as well as the work’s literary art and often illustrations, so long as the initial work has been out 60 days.
We love books of fiction! And as readers we have too little time to read ALL of the books that fall onto our tentative To-Read List. The Forgotten Fiction hopes that with our Yea or Nay stamp, we can definitively give our unbiased opinion to you as a recommendation that may or may not move a book from the stack to your Must-Read List.