Send a hitman to do a job along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, throw in the usual obstacles, including maybe a sexy woman or two, and you might think you’re in for a paint-by-numbers crime novel, hardly worth the time. But this isn’t like any other such novel, because it’s Quarry’s Choice (2015, Hard Case Crime) a page-turner written by Max Allan Collins, who has carefully crafted his Quarry character over a long series.
Collins, a veteran of over seventy-five novels, knows how to write this stuff. He’s created a sturdy, long-lasting protagonist in Quarry, a character who insinuates himself under the reader’s skin, who’s not afraid to tell the reader how he really feels about things that annoy him, and who always lives to kill another day.
Quarry’s Choice is a prequel of sorts, set in 1972, when Quarry was just finding his assassin’s legs. He’d only been in the game for about a year when the Broker (his job contact) assigns him a very different kind of hit. Quarry packs up and heads for Biloxi, Mississippi.
Biloxi in 1972 was far from the glitzy Gulf Coast version of Las Vegas it is today. Prohibition was still in effect in many Mississippi counties, and gambling and prostitution were wide open, courtesy of the loosely-organized Dixie Mafia. Two DM kingpins rule over Biloxi and Quarry is assigned to take one of them out. Trouble is, Quarry has to get exceptionally close to his target and in doing so, leaves himself open to exposure. He is “given” a stripper/prostitute to keep him company during his stay and their relationship becomes, shall we say, complex.
For Quarry, nothing is ever easy. He’s forced to build up a body count on his way up to his target, and ultimately learns there’s a living witness to all his killings. What’s a hitman to do?
Collins does an excellent job of creating a seedy, backwater atmosphere in 1972 Biloxi, and the reader might consider taking a shower after reading Quarry’s Choice. Quarry is a fish so far out of water, you can feel his gills drying up. The Mississippi criminal organization, while decidedly minor league, is still incomprehensible to him. There’s a double-cross around every corner and he not only doesn’t know who to trust, he’s not sure who to kill.
Pulling the reader back to Quarry’s rookie days is a nice touch by Collins, for it shows him as a younger man, less self-assured than the hardened killer we see in the later efforts. Once again, Collins shows impressive skill in shaping his character and his series. And Hard Case Crime has delivered another superior cover, featuring a properly steamy painting by Robert McGinnis.
Recommendation: Buy it. You can’t go wrong with either Collins or Quarry. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s got to be good.