The Man Who Brought Quarry (Back) To Life

September 22nd, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Available October 13
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No, this week’s update isn’t about me – or not primarily about me. Nor is it entirely about Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai. Rather it’s mostly about the man who is very likely (at 89) our greatest living illustrator.

In fairness to myself – and I work hard at being fair to myself – I’d already revived Quarry somewhat by way of a short film I wrote and co-exec-produced, “A Matter of Principal” (2003), followed by a feature film, “The Last Lullaby” (2008), which I co-wrote. But the latter hadn’t happened yet when my friend Charles Ardai, called to try to talk me into writing a new Quarry novel for his emerging Hard Case Crime line.

I had created Quarry in 1971 or ‘72 at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The book, and three sequels, was published in the mid-70s, and one more in the mid-‘80s.

As it happened, I had my screenplay of what would become “The Last Lullaby” sitting on my desk. Having done any number of novelizations in my time, I figured doing one based on my own script wouldn’t be tough. On the other hand, I had a full plate and didn’t need the work.

So I gave Charles a kind of ultimatum. I would do a Quarry novel for him if he got Robert McGinnis to do the cover. McGinnis was famous for movie posters (including James Bond films) and beloved covers for such private eye series as Shell Scott and Mike Shayne, and had done a number of covers for 1960s Mickey Spillane paperbacks. In mystery fiction fandom, McGinnis was generally considered the master – and I agreed with that assessment. He brought a modern look to the pulp cover that set him way apart, and still does. (Several books, edited by the indefatigable Art Scott, collect many of those incredible images.)

The thing was, Charles – an award-winning writer his own self – had been keeping the McGinnis covers for his own novels. Would he be willing to meet my demand?

As it happens, he was, and once I knew I had a McGinnis cover on the way, I was ready to do just one more Quarry, to be titled THE LAST QUARRY. I’d always felt Quarry was second only to Nate Heller among my creations (all writers sound like God when talking about their work), and relished the idea of writing a final book for the series. Period-at- the-end-of-sentence kind of thing.

As it happened, the cover art was finished before I even started writing the novel (which would become a frequent situation with subsequent Hard Case Crime books of mine). This gave me the chance to write the cover scene, thought up by the great McGinnis, into the novel itself – something many an oldtime pulp writer would do (“Here’s the cover, Ray, flying saucers and shit – come up with a story!”).

Something surprising happened – THE LAST QUARRY did quite well. It had solid sales and garnered incredible reviews. (That didn’t stop the director of “The Last Lullaby” from bringing another writer in and changing things around – which is why I forbade the use of the name “Quarry” in the film itself…though I do quite like the end result). So I began thinking about how to do another Quarry novel. Charles thought that was a good idea, but how could I write another book when the previous series entry was labelled THE LAST QUARRY?

“Because I’m going to write a novel called THE FIRST QUARRY,” I said, detailing my hitman’s first hit, a notion Charles found pretty much delightful.

Since then, as many of you know, I’ve been filling in the blanks between the first four novels and QUARRY’S VOTE (aka PRIMARY TARGET), and the years after that, as well. You know you’re effing old when a series you began as contemporary now requires you to write period pieces.

Only one other Quarry novel has been graced with a McGinnis cover – the recent QUARRY’S CHOICE – though the other HCC covers have been stellar, too. I also had the joy and honor of seeing a McGinnis cover adorn one of my Spillane collaborations, THE CONSUMMATA (also at Hard Case, of course).

And now a QUARRY TV series has completed shooting its first (and I hope not last) season of eight episodes. Think about it: something I created in college in 1972 will be a TV series in 2016.

And without that McGinnis painting, none of it would have happened.

So when Charles and I began discussing doing Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels – and publishing them on a fast schedule, to take advantage of the Cinemax series – the need for wonderful covers, right away, came into play. HCC is known first for its fantastic covers, and not the afterthought of writers like me.

I said, “Why not go to Bob McGinnis? See if he has any paintings of beautiful women in his inventory?”

Charles thought this was a splendid idea, but unlikely. He contacted McGinnis and learned the master had five such paintings in his inventory – the exact number we needed!

I was sent the available unpublished images, which I loved, and put each cover painting with an appropriate novel. Several are spookily appropriate. There was also a need for an image of Quarry himself, and Charles chose the Quarry face from…THE LAST QUARRY cover. While the TV series tracks the adventures of a much younger Quarry, the McGinnis version seemed definitive – and also would match up with a McGinnis cover.

When I look at these covers, it’s as if I were spinning a rack of paperbacks at Cohn’s Newsland in 1966 – I see dream-come-true imagery, taking on the look of the old Dell “Mike Shayne” books. Perhaps I am in a LIFE ON MARS type coma, and inventing all of this stuff.

Because this can’t really be happening, can it?

Five vintage books by me re-published in a five-month period…all with Robert McGinnis covers?

And surely it can’t be possible that I’m looking at the original LAST QUARRY cover painting by McGinnis, hanging on my office wall? (The painting that is, not McGinnis.) And in what universe would a sweet guy named McGinnis just send me that original, because I’d been so overjoyed, having him do the cover of one of my novels?

Feel free to hate me. I would. Particularly since I’ve been married, since 1968, to a woman who looks like she stepped out of a McGinnis painting.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of the BATMAN: SECOND CHANCES collection, out now.

And here’s a lovely review of STRIP FOR MURDER, which will soon be available in a new edition from Dover.


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5 Responses to “The Man Who Brought Quarry (Back) To Life”

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Well, I don’t hate you, but I’m mighty damn envious.

  2. Brian Drake says:

    No hate, Max, we are excited too! Can’t wait to get the books!

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, guys

    Bill, I guess we’re both pretty lucky, keeping our heads above water in a tough field for decades…and we didn’t do too bad on the life’s partner front, either. I couldn’t admire what you’ve accomplished more.

  4. Art Scott says:

    A fine tribute to Bob. I once asked him about how often he heard from the authors he did covers for; very seldom, apparently. It’s nice to see an appreciation, in print, from a McGinnis author; the only other one I know of is from Richard Prather, in the foreword to the Paperbacks book. I’m delighted to see those paintings come out of inventory and into print; six McGinnis covers puts you in rare company, laddie. Indefatigable I’m not, in fact, I’m about ready for a nap, but thanks for the compliment!

  5. Max Allan Collins says:

    Art, thanks for stopping by. I think you may know (or have guessed) how high a regard I hold you in. But your math skills rival mine, which is to say considerably less than “indefatigable” — I will soon have racked up an impressive nine McGinnis covers: the five discussed in this update, plus THE LAST QUARRY, THE CONSUMMATA (featured in your latest McGinnis book!), QUARRY’S CHOICE and another for a book that may be titled QUARRY ON TARGET (not a word of which is written), because Charles offered it to me…a really incredible image.

    I would love to know if Bob McGinnis has seen the piece above. If he hasn’t, write me at and advise me how to get it to him.