Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Bouchercon panels: The Wrong Quarry, Max Allan Collins' '60s-style original

Max Allan Collins will be on a panel I'll moderate at Bouchercon in November.  He'll discuss writers from the past, so I thought I take a look at his own writing to see what it owes to those authors and how it differs from their work.

For one thing, Collins has written about as much as some of the old-timers did, a list prolifically long, especially by today's more polished standards. And The Wrong Quarry (2014), most recent in Collins' long-running series about a U.S. Marine sniper turned hit man, stays faithful to terse, tough-guy narrative, a la Richard Stark or Ennis Willie, while seasoning things with more contemporary touches and topical references (Ronald Reagan, Deep Purple) that keep the story from sliding into nostalgia or pastiche.

The sex is just a little more explicit than that of early 1960s sleaze paperbacks without, however, getting as graphic as the more graphic of today's crime fiction.  I especially like the novel's handling of a gay character, flamboyant and safely exotic, in the approved 1940s-1960s manner, yet thoroughly aware that such flamboyance is a front and a shield. Collins' Web site says his rock and roll band plays an "engaging mix of classic rock and their own '60s-style originals." That's The Wrong Quarry: A fast-paced, entertaining '60s-style original.

While I read the novel's second half, I'll ask readers to ponder these questions: How do books or a movies preserve the feeling of a previous time or style without turning into nostalgia?  What are your favorite examples?
Max Allan Collins will be part of my Beyond Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane: Lesser Known Writers of the Pulp and Paperback Eras panel Friday, Nov. 14, 3 p.m. at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Bill Crider said...

My favorite example is We'll Always Have Murder, by me. But aside from that, I liked Joe Gores' Spade & Archer a lot, and I like Collins' Quarry books a lot, too.

September 23, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bill, while I track down a copy ofWe'll Always Have Murder, how do you think the book manages to keep the old-time feeling without becoming mere nostalgia? Is it something you thought about while you planned and wrote the book?

I did not love Spade & Archer--interesting, because I revere Hammett and have read and very much liked some of Gores' other work. Maybe I was too reverent of the originals. But a crime-loving friend who is more conscious of historical and biographical detail than I loved Spade & Archer, so I'm prepared to give it another chance.

I think I may try to read the Quarry novels in reverse order, just to try to pin down how Collins strikes the balance.

September 23, 2014  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

The First Quarry evokes the time period without a hint of nostalgia. It lacks the fetishistic detail of a historical novel but reads more like a missing Collins novel from the early 70s.

September 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No fetishistic detail in The Wrong Quarry, either, just an occasional timely reminder, of which the novel ultimately makes clever use.

September 24, 2014  
Blogger Dana King said...

The quantity and type of details are key in establishing a time without getting maudlin about it. For one thing, pick commonplace things that might have been ignored, or were unpleasant. Health issues that have since become pretty much eradicated (polio, tuberculosis) can do it. Choice of language in dialog is also important, again, in moderation and without drawing too much attention to it. (Fr example, referring to someone as a gimp or a lunger.)

The key may be to slip the references in with subtlety, so they don't draw attention away from the story. Reed Farrel Coleman made a great comment at Bouchercon last year, saying in any time period, 090% of the people do exactly what they do at any other time: go to work, raise kids, worry about money, whatever. It's in how those little things are depicted that the time period can be set for a reader.

September 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Funny you should mention Reed Farrel Coleman. The Wrong Quarry includes an unsavory character named Reed Farrel.

The real Reed's comment reminds me of why I am wary of pop music references in crime novel. Yes, people attach emotional significance to tunes. No, they do not spend all that much time listening to them. Life, that is, and the version of life depicted in naturalistic and realistic novels, is not a goddamn Big Chill soundtrack,

Collins' occasional music references in this book are entertaining, clever acknowledgments that he is writing a book in a style characteristic of a period different from that of the book's setting.

September 24, 2014  

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