“Quarry’s Choice” by Max Allan Collins is a 2015 installment in the hit-man series, yet it takes place in 1972. The popular paperbacks have always been unstuck in time, and the reading order doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you do, in fact, read these books because 'Quarry' is among the best genre series characters ever written.
This one takes place after Vietnam vet Quarry has been accepting assassination assignments from the Broker for about a year. During a standard business meeting in Iowa, a couple of hired killers try to murder the Broker but are foiled by Quarry’s quick action. It’s an exciting opening scene that sets the pace for the remainder of this propulsive installment.
Soon thereafter, the Broker engages Quarry to kill the man behind the assassination attempt - a junior varsity racketeer named Killian in Biloxi’s Dixie Mafia. Killian is in the process of trying to consolidate power, and he views the Broker as a loose end requiring elimination. The ever-resourceful Broker has an inside track to get Quarry a job - in an undercover capacity - as one of Killian’s bodyguards to bide time until Quarry is properly positioned to eliminate this well-protected threat.
In Biloxi, Quarry is assigned a stripper/prostitute, who uses the name Lolita, to be his escort as he learns his way around town. As a writer, Collins is notoriously good at writing fantastically graphic sex scenes, so Lolita’s version of southern hospitality is a welcome edition to this otherwise violent and tense paperback. Beyond the sex scenes, the relationship that develops between Quarry and the whore is one of the most satisfying aspects of the novel and underscores the basic goodness and humanity of our antihero hitman.
Biding his time for an opportunity to take out Killian, Quarry is given assignments from his target to thin the herd of criminal competition in Mississippi, and Quarry must make some tough choices concerning conflicts of interest and the ethics serving two masters. The strip clubs and illegal gambling operations servicing the nearby Air Force base in Biloxi serve as a fascinating cultural study of regional crime.
As you may have figured, “Quarry’s Choice” is another fantastic and perfectly-written novel in this flawless series. It’s short enough that it never drags, and Collins’ writing crackles with good humor and compelling bloodshed. The twists and turns as the book approaches its climax are genuinely surprising. The paperback’s conclusion is gratifying and leaves the reader wanting another helping of Quarry action. Highly recommended.