Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Wing And A Prayer

Max Allan Collins' Nolan series is definitely badass, thanks to the author's lean writing style and his honorable hero, who may be a thief, but he isn't a bad guy. A cross between Donald Westlake's Parker and Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer, Nolan is a former Mafia burglar working his way back up through the ranks after a couple of decades in the Mob's doghouse. A cynical, tough, independent bastard, Nolan the loner took up with a wiry comic book nerd named Jon in BAIT MONEY, the first book. By #3, FLY PAPER, Nolan and Jon have evolved into a rough father/son relationship—I guess knocking over banks is a good way to bring people together.

Nolan, now running a Mob hotel in the Quad Cities, comes to Jon's rescue when Breen, an old acquaintance, gets shot up and stumbles to Jon's antique shop, which was formerly owned by his late uncle Planner, a legend among thieves. Breen was the victim of a doublecross by crazy redneck Sam Comfort and his stoner son Billy, with whom he had been knocking over parking meters for several weeks. To keep Jon out of a jam with the psychotic Comforts, Nolan works up a plan to rob the hillbillies of their $200,000 fortune.

In the meantime, Collins crosscuts to an unassuming young man named Ken, who plans to hijack an airliner from Chicago to St. Louis and parachute out of it D.B. Cooper-style with the ransom. What feels like a subplot mushrooms into FLY PAPER's big climax, as Nolan and Jon coincidentally find themselves with a suitcase of stolen cash on the same airplane.

FLY PAPER, like other early Nolan novels, was barely released, if at all, in the early 1970s and went mainly unnoticed until Pinnacle printed it in 1981. The late success of the Nolan series led the prolific Collins to continue the adventures of the irascible antihero, which, unlike most other men's adventure series, are still in print.

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