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Two for the Money by Max Allan Collins
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Two for the money is, of course, a pun, and the book contains two novellas, sort of. No spoilers. You will just have to read this book to understand why I can’t tell you about Book Two or provide much of the plot.

Excellent Nolan the thief story. Nolan is getting old, or at least to an age that he thinks is old (he’s forty-nine but [spoiler coming: turns fifty in Book Two.) He’s also an Iowan, or at least Iowa has become his locale of preference given his problems with Chicago.

Iowa City depressed Nolan. It wasn’t the Midwestern atmosphere that bothered him, or even Iowa itself—he liked being left alone, which was basically what people did to each other in Midwestern states, as opposed to East Coast rudeness, West Coast weirdness and Southern pseudo-hospitality. Iowa City was a college town, and that depressed Nolan. Or more specifically, college-town girls depressed him. Maybe it was this new awareness of what he was beginning to view as the onrush of senility. Or just an awkwardness that came from being around people he couldn’t relate to. But these young girls, damn it, all looking so fuckable and at the same time untouchable, in their jeans and flimsy tee-shirts. . . . He guessed it was ego; he didn’t like looking at a desirable woman without at least the remote possibility of getting in. Not that he’d ever been much for playing the stud, that wasn’t it; sex was a gut need to be filled when time and circumstance allowed. But with young girls like these, daughters and possibly granddaughters of the one or two generations of women he’d had intercourse with, he had no basis for rapport, no way, man, none at all to relate with such creatures. Conversation was enough of a pain for Nolan without having to struggle for whatever wave-length these children were on this week. So Nolan is alone.

He has returned to the Chicago area where he is recognized and shot by a member of the “Family” with which Nolan has a long-standing grudge. He had killed the brother of “Charlie,” one of the Family bosses who has sworn revenge and who has had a contract out on Nolan for fifteen years. Nolan, tired of hiding, running, and thieving, seeks a reconciliation with Charlie so he can have access to all the money he has squirreled away from assorted heists over the years under an alias that Charlie now controls. Charlie agrees, but with a condition: he must pay $100,000 for the privilege.

“You heard me, Nolan. Go out and get it for me. Earn it. Steal it. Counterfeit it if you can do a good enough job. But you got to be able to show me where you got it. I want to pick up the newspaper and see such-and-such jewelry store got hit, or so-and-so rich bastard was robbed. Don’t even think about using any of the Earl Webb money to pay me off.” “Why the hell not?” “Because I don’t want you to. Because it would be too goddamn fucking easy.”

So Nolan is stuck planning a bank heist with some amateurs. The heist goes well but things begin to go very wrong. He has the money to pay off Charlie, but is he just being set up?

Collins has the ageism and worry for the future dead on. It’s uncanny how this book has the feel a Richard Stark Parker novel. High praise, indeed. Kudos to the publisher who resurrected these these early novels as ebooks.

There’s a very interesting historical afterword that’s worth reading [spoiler alert] in which Collins discusses the origin of his pen name Michael Allan Collins, his real name. He had originally written under the name Max Collins (even though he had submitted the books under the name Allan Collins – his father’s name was Max.) But another writer, Michael Collins, whose real name was Dennis Lynds asked him to stop using the name. He didn’t at first and both of them wrote books entitled The Slasher, “and the two ‘M. Collins’ mystery writers caused all sorts of bibliographic nightmares." He later used the pseudonym, Max Allan Collins, which is his real name.

Collins also expresses accolades to Donald Westlake/Richard Stark for the Parker series which became a sort of model for Nolan. BTW, if you find Nolan’s first name listed anywhere, in some old card catalog, perhaps, as “Frank,” that’s incorrect. It was added by an editor who felt Nolan should have a first name for the cover copy, much to Collin’s distinct displeasure. Nowhere in the books is Nolan’s first name identified. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I have heard that Collins is best known for humorous, unthreatening whodunits... but as far as what I've read, he does "bad-ass" really well. A fun pair of novels about an old school tough guy.
  MarquesadeFlambe | Jan 18, 2007 |
The first two books in Max Allan Collins' Nolan series, featuring a one-name-only nightclub manager turned heist man par excellence -- Bait Money (1973) and Blood Money (1981) -- have been collected in a mass market paperback omnibus edition from Hard Case Crime under the title Two For the Money. I liked Two For the Money more than I feared I would, but am somewhat annoyed at the "touch-ups" that were made to Bait Money to try to bring it forward in time by about ten years: Collins and/or the editors tweaked some stuff (a T-shirt commemorating the tenth anniversary of Woodstock [p. 117]; a girl is described as having "Bo Derek breasts" [p. 118]) but forgot to tweak others (the Centennial Bridge connecting Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois, has an improbable-for-the-early-1980s toll of U.S. $0.15, although the Wikipedia article about the bridge states that the toll never rose above fifty cents for cars, and was discontinued in 2003; a gunsel's "late-model Dodge Charger" [p. 121] suggests, given that Bait Money has been revamped to take place in the early '80s, a Charger from 1976-78, which was patterned on the Chrysler Cordoba -- a luxury model -- and not the performance model of Bullit and The Dukes of Hazard; and I flat-out don't believe the prevalence of so many warmed-over hippies in the early 1980s, even in five-years-behind-the-curve Iowa), and improbably has Nolan referring to homosexuals as "gays" (p. 102), when most likely he would've said "fags," "homos," "fairies," or some less-PC term, given his age and his background; a section in Blood Money told from Nolan's point of view does have him using "fag" instead of "gay" (p. 242).

Bait Money finds a middle-aged Nolan ready to try to bury the hatchet with the Chicago mob underboss who's been laying in for him for the past sixteen years due to Nolan's murder of his brother, robbery of his nightclub, and making him look like a prize chump to the rest of the Family, not necessarily in that order; unfortunately for our "hero," the boss' flair for melodrama is easily the equal of his sadism, and he demands that Nolan pay him off with the proceeds from one last heist -- he has proof of Nolan's false identity, so Nolan can't tap the sizable nest egg he's already built up -- upon pain of a likely hideously slow death. Since word has traveled that the Chicago mob is gunning for him, no professional thief will come within a hundred miles of Nolan, which forces him to collect a team of rank amateurs so that he can hit a bank in the process of converting from a state to a federal bank, which means that it is flush with long green. Nolan's plan is excellent, but the players aren't. And then there's that mob boss...

Blood Money takes place nearly a year after Bait Money: Nolan must track down the people who've cleaned out his proceeds from the job in Bait Money and murdered an old friend and working associate while at the same time keep the new powers-that-be in the Chicago mob on his side and out of the way; meanwhile, death touches anyone whom Nolan visits....

I liked Bait Money slightly better than Blood Money: both books are heavily informed by comic books (and not just in the comic book-collecting character of Jon, who serves as Nolan's sidekick), and in Blood Money Nolan and Jon must contend with a contrasting father and son pair who really are father and son, the disgraced Chicago mob underboss Charlie (the main villain of Bait Money) and his son Walter, but the waters are muddied somewhat by the introduction of a gunsel named Greer who seems set to be Nolan's foil for the next book. (No bets that Walter doesn't turn into a major villain in subsequent books of the series.) While the racial banter between Nolan and an ex-NFL footballer turned Mob enforcer named Tillis is heavily reminiscent of similar banter in Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series, it grew pretty tiresome. Two For the Money was an entertaining, often amusing, read, despite the aforementioned editorial bobbles: if I see other books in the series for a cheap price, I'll probably pick them up, but I'd be interested to read other (non-TV or movie tie-in) books that Collins wrote. If the genre hijinks never quite reach the level of the better Matt Helm books, you shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying them. ( )
1 vote uvula_fr_b4 | Jan 15, 2007 |
Two For The Money introduces Nolan, an aging thief heavily indebted to Richard Stark's Parker, character-wise. Like most of the other books in the Hard Case line, there is nothing revolutionary in the story, but the air of menace is palpable. If that sounds like something you'd like, you may have found a new friend. ( )
  EdKupfer | Dec 14, 2006 |
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