Thursday, May 01, 2008

His Name’s Nolan

And Nolan is badass. Intended by his creator, Max Allan Collins, as a derivative of Donald Westlake's Parker (who was personified on film by Lee Marvin in the great POINT BLANK and by Mel Gibson in PAYBACK), Nolan (no first name) is a hard-bitten 50-year-old professional thief trying to get back on his feet after an enemy in the Mafia discovers the false name he's been using. Charlie, the Chicago Mafioso still holding a grudge after Nolan killed his brother fifteen years earlier, promises not to squeal on Nolan to the FBI for a fee of $100,000. The catch is that it has to be new money, not cash from Nolan's bank accounts, and he has one month to deliver. So, it's one last heist for Nolan. Since none of his former associates will work with him, now that he's on Charlie's shit list, he recruits a trio of idealistic twentysomethings, including a fresh-faced comic book collector named Jon, to pull an Iowa City bank job.

Nolan is a great character, intended by Collins as a mixture of "Parker and the Lee Van Cleef character in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE." Collins, who has since become a prolific and quite famous author of novels, adaptations, comic books and screenplays, was just 19 when he began the Nolan series with MOURN THE LIVING, which went unpublished. BAIT MONEY was first published—barely—in 1973, but it wasn't until Pinnacle bought Collins' Nolan manuscripts and put them out in paperback in 1981 that the book made any kind of splash. According to Collins, Pinnacle was looking for a property to replace Don Pendleton's Executioner, which had been sold to Harlequin.

MOURN THE LIVING finally came out in book form in 1999, and is the eighth in the Nolan series. I look forward to reading the rest of them, if they're as tightly delineated as BAIT MONEY, which crackles with believable dialogue, a clever plot (with an interesting twist near the end concerning Charlie) and the relationship between the loner Nolan and the comic book-loving Jon, obviously a Collins surrogate, even though BAIT MONEY doesn't read like a Mary Sue story.


English Teacher X said...

Yeah those books were pretty sweet. I remember in some of the other books there was some kind of crazy hillbilly family that kept popping up to cause trouble. . . everytime Nolan thought he'd killed the last one, another cousin would show up.

His Quarry series, about a hitman, are very interesting reads, also, if you can find them.

Doug Bassett said...

This one has been republished by Hard Case Crime, as part of the TWO FOR THE MONEY set. (The other one being BLOOD MONEY, if I remember aright.) Collins also has a couple Quarry novels there.

I'm not a huge fan of this guy -- although he's not awful. Merely "adequate", I'd say. Very meat and potatoes kind of stuff.

Probably the best one of his I bumped into was SPREE, which has that crazy hillbilly family referred to in the other post.

Interesting you found this paperback, not easy to find.


Anonymous said...

It's gratifying to have this nice write-up on a site named after the great Johnny LaRue -- SCTV is my favorite show, and I was lucky to feature two Second City veterans in cameos in my low-budget indie film MOMMY'S DAY -- Larry Coven and the legendary Del Close (his last film apperance).

Another place to find NOLAN novels is in the reprint TOUGH TENDER, which collects HARD CASH and SCRATCH FEVER. As for Quarry, I did THE LAST QUARRY for Hard Case Crime a while back; it's generated a film that I wrote (but did not direct), THE LAST LULLABY with Tom Sizemore. And a prequel to the entire series, THE FIRST QUARRY, will be out from Hard Case in Nov.

Gee, it's nice Doug Bassett doesn't think I'm awful. Very generous of him. The hillbilly clan in the Nolans is the Comfort family (Cole Comfort named for the novel COLD COMFORT FARM) and Doug will be getting a knock on his door one of these days from one of 'em, with a gift basket from me.

Marty McKee said...

Thanks for dropping by, Max. Just last night, I happened to see tie-in novels for BONES and CRIMINAL MINDS on the book store shelf, so you're as busy as ever. For cult movie fans out there, Max has also provided brief commentary tracks for serials released on DVD by VCI, including THE PHANTOM.

Doug Bassett said...

Oh, this is too funny. What, Mr. Collins, have you been googling your name or something?

(Hey, no sweat, I do it too. There's a balding guy out there who's a mushroom enthusiast named Doug Bassett -- I'm not that guy, though. :P)

I've never been a particular admirer of your work, sorry, and stand by what I said. I did think SPREE had a very good idea behind it, and THE LAST QUARRY was certainly readable with a bit more of a pop in the prose.

Hell, for someone who doesn't like your stuff I've certainly bought a fair amount of it, including TRUE DETECTIVE and that Ms. Tree novel you published with Hard Case. And I'll probably get THE FIRST QUARRY too, when it comes out.

In fairness, I do think you did the world a very good service in keeping Spillane's name alive during those years where he was essentially ignored, and for that you deserve a great deal of commendation and appreciation, as I suspect it was a thankless task, especially early on.


PS. Send the Comforts over anytime, I'll bring the Everclear and the meth. :P

Anonymous said...

No, I did not google myself, Doug -- Ed Gorman sent me a link.

Marty, I just recorded on camera intros for ALL the DICK TRACY serials as well as the RKO features (for VCI). You'll find me on the YOUNG INDIANA JONES Vol. 3 DVD being interviewed about Capone and Ness. And of course my ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE DVD is a fairly recent release.

BONES has been out a couple years. I do a certain amount of tie-ins between my own stuff to help keep the lights on in the joint -- AMERICAN GANGSTER got on the NY Times list. What you would probably really enjoy is STRIP FOR MURDER, out soon from Prime Crime, historical mystery about the Al Capp/Ham Fisher feud.

And BLACK HATS by "Patrick Culhane" (me) is out in paperback right now -- old Wyatt Earp meets young Al Capone in 1920.