Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Reviews: Quarry's Choice

Quarry's Choice
by Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins is an Iowa based writer of various mystery stories and graphic novels. He's probably best known for Road to Perdition. His Quarry series is also popular. Each book stands alone. This isn't a series in which it's essential to start from the beginning because Collins provides the same sketchy origin details in the first few pages of each book. As you might surmise from the slightly risque cover of Quarry's Choice, this story is a detective/gangster novel written with a nod to the style of the pulp fiction dime store novels from the 30s thru the 70s. For lack of a better word the writing style and themes which Collins uses in Quarry's Choice are unabashedly masculine. You may be intrigued, excited, unimpressed, disgusted or bored by that. I can't call it. But Collins' prose is miles apart from that of say something like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Collins was influenced by pulp fiction godfather Mickey Spillane, creator of the Mike Hammer character. Collins worked with Spillane and even finished a few Spillane stories. That Spillane sway suffuses the text. Sex is integral to the story. The protagonist likes sex. He likes women. And he's not shy about trying to determine a woman's interest or availability. There's a lot of sex in Quarry's Choice, tender and otherwise. The story is set in the early seventies. The titular hero is not really a hero in the classic sense of the word. He's a hitman who's not too particular about his employers provided he's paid on time and in full. He is particular about rules though. His word is usually his bond. If he ever takes altruistic steps he'll probably look back on them as a mistake. Quarry is a former Marine sniper and Vietnam veteran, who upon returning home and dealing harshly and permanently with his wife's lover, discovered that the only thing he was really good at was killing people. 
Quarry finds no moral difference between killing people for the State and doing so for criminals. Quarry doesn't want to know his targets. He only wants to know when he gets paid. Quarry may or not be a sociopath. But he's usually not a danger to the everyday civilian. If you're not a criminal or someone with a lot of influence the chances that you will run into Quarry are almost nonexistent. Quarry is not someone who kills or terrorizes people just for fun. He keeps a very low profile. Anonymity is good for his bank account and for his chances of dying peacefully in old age.
This low profile becomes strained when Quarry, meeting with his boss and middleman, a man only known as The Broker, almost becomes collateral damage from an assassination attempt on The Broker's life. Well The Broker and Quarry take that very personally, very personally indeed. The Broker makes some inquiries and discovers that an overly ambitious Dixie Mafia gangster was behind the attempt. So Quarry heads off to Biloxi. The gangster's similarly ambitious and resentful number two can get Quarry undercover as his boss' new bodyguard long enough so that Quarry can do the job. But neither the job nor the situation are simple. Quarry doesn't like complexity because complexity can get you killed. Quarry's Choice is told in first person. It gives an intimate view of the small southern bars, hotels, strip clubs, restaurants and other low rent venues that are where many members of the local criminal element make their home. Collins is a very descriptive writer who can enable you to smell the fried chicken, sweet iced tea, deep fried donuts and biscuits and gravy fare that make up the local Biloxi diet. You can hear the seventies era rock soundtrack and television shows. This is a fast moving hard-boiled book with an anti-hero that you may not like. There are a few cliches employed, most notably the just this side of legal young naive stripper and hooker with the heart of gold. Against his better instincts, Quarry lets this broken angel (her name is Luann) get close to him, which adds to the aforementioned complexity. I liked this book. It was a fun read if you can temporarily put aside some of your moral judgments. People die. Quarry kills many of them. Collins deftly draws characters with very light strokes but they all feel real. This is a plot driven story, not a character based one. Did I mention that there was a lot of sex? Because there is. A lot. Sex. Constant. 
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