Any year that begins with the release of a new series book by the great Max Allan Collins is off to a good start. QUARRY’S CHOICE is a fast-moving, hard-boiled pulp classic that is fun, sexy and action-packed. The story will keep you engaged and turning the pages, illustrating once again why Hard Case Crime is an essential publisher in the mystery field.
Collins has been a wonderful writer for decades. Whether it is his Nathan Heller series, in which the detective tackles the great unsolved historic crimes of the 20th century, such as the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and JFK; his graphic novel, ROAD TO PERDITION, which became a hit movie and the last film ever done by Paul Newman; or the Dick Tracy comic books, Collins has consistently entertained readers. He is a writer’s writer, a true professional in every sense of the word.
In the early 1970s, he created Quarry. It took him three or four years to sell it, which shows you he knows that a professional writer never gives up on their work or dream. Four Quarry novels came out in the space of a year. These were the good old days when paperback publishing houses still allowed young writers to develop by giving them contracts to write multiple books. Collins did those books, and then Quarry disappeared for a full decade, with his next novel not coming out until 1987. Then the series would disappear for an even longer period until Hard Case Crime brought out a new Quarry story in 2006.
QUARRY’S CHOICE is the sixth Quarry published by Hard Case Crime. This is a terrific hard-boiled series; read just one, and you will look forward to the next installment or finding the earlier books. Collins here has created the assassin as an everyman. He opens the books with a great quote from Sylvia Plath: “Why do we execute men for murdering an individual and then pin a purple heart on them for mass slaughter of someone arbitrarily labeled ‘enemy.’”
"QUARRY’S CHOICE is a fast-moving, hard-boiled pulp classic that is fun, sexy and action-packed. The story will keep you engaged and turning the pages, illustrating once again why Hard Case Crime is an essential publisher in the mystery field."
The man given the fake name “Quarry” learned to be an assassin during three tours as a Marine sniper in one of America’s perpetual wars called Vietnam. In QUARRY’S CHOICE, we meet Quarry again in April 1972. He says: “I’d been killing people for good money for over a year. Before that, in the Nam soup, I had been killing people for chump change but then the broker came along and showed me how to turn the skills Uncle Sugar had honed into me into a decent living.”
The broker takes murder contracts, generally from mob guys, business partners looking for an eternal buyout or spouses wanting a permanent separation, and then farms them out to a stable of killers like Quarry. But Quarry is not some deranged serial killer. He is a normal guy doing a dirty job that somebody is going to do, which is why we enjoy going on these adventures with him. Imagine Martin Sheen’s boy-like character in Apocalypse Now, Benjamin Willard, getting off the boat at the end of the movie and coming home but not able to find a suitable life. What then does an assassin do?
Quarry describes himself this way: “Five ten, one hundred and sixty pounds, brown hair worn a little on the long side but not enough to get heckled by a truck driver. Sideburns but nothing radical. Just the guy sitting next to you on the bus or plane who you forget about the instant you get where you are going. Average, but not so average that I couldn’t get laid now and then.” The all-American boy turned killer, in other words.
In QUARRY’S CHOICE, Quarry just happens to be there when somebody tries to kill his broker. The hit is traced to an internal power struggle to take over the Dixie Mafia going on in Biloxi, Mississippi. Quarry is sent there to aid the number-two man in the organization who aspires to be number one. Biloxi is portrayed as a wide-open town, filled with illegal gambling and prostitution. No sooner does he arrive to go undercover with the target when he is presented with a young prostitute who is assigned to be basically his sex slave for as long as he likes.
Quarry is decent enough to know this is wrong. He describes Lolita as a “sweet child.” But her real name is Luann, and he quickly gives in to temptation and corruption. And she will soon provide him with a difficult choice. He says, “I did like her. I didn’t like that I liked her, because there are parts of me I don’t like having touched.” She describes Quarry as her “knight in shiny armor.” This case will test the shine on that armor as the assassin faces some real moral dilemmas.
The Quarry books are set in the 1970s when sex was becoming more open, and the numerous cultural references to that time are brilliant. Quarry drives a Green Opel GT. The classic rock album “Who’s Next” comes out of the 8 track. Anybody remember 8 tracks? A character wears “Tony Orlando’s moustache on loan.” Does his name ring a bell? Flip Wilson and the original “Hawaii Five-O”are on television, and Luann wears a Led Zeppelin t-shirt. I still fondly remember mine.
Any year when Quarry is going to be on television is starting well indeed. Cinemax has given the green light to a Quarry TV series that in all likelihood will appear late this year. With the breakthrough now going on with long-form cable TV and the tremendous writing of series like “True Detective,” Quarry is a perfect choice for cable, and Collins has said he is very happy with the scripts he has read. If the series is picked up, he will be writing two scripts a year.
While doing that, we can only hope that Max Allan Collins will keep writing Quarry books long into the future and Hard Case Crime continues publishing them.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 8, 2015