Reprint I read: Two For the Money by Max Allan Collins, 2004, 9780857683185.
One of the four Hard Case Crime novels I picked up a month or two ago. I bought this one in the Milwaukee airport waiting for my wife's parents to arrive. I always try and arrive early at the Milwaukee airport so I have time to check out the large used bookstore, get a coffee, look at the mini-museum, maybe get a milkshake (the milkshake place there is expensive).
This is a Hard Case Crime reprint twofer of Bait Money and Blood Money. Collins's web page lists both books as 1981. But he pubbed these in the early '70s when he was around 20-years-old. Worldcat lists original copyright as 1973. You'll have to ask him about the weird dates and editions.
Bait Money was Collins's first published novel and a dead ripoff of Richard Stark/Westlake's Parker novels. As Little Steven says, "you're only as good as who you steal from." To be clear, Collins freely cops to admiring and copying Westlake and he picked a fantastic series to emulate. Collins did a pretty fine job for being only 20-years-old-or-whatever-he-was. He takes some of the Parker basics - character with one name, working outside the mob, big and tough, no nonsense, single, crime procedural, etc. - and writes his own novel.
Anywho. We are introduced to Nolan at the end of his month long recuperation from a gunshot. Nolan has spent the past 16 years avoiding any work around Chicago. Nolan is on the outs with the Chicago mafia/mob/outfit after killing the brother of Charlie, a made mobster. Nolan figures things have quieted down enough to return to Rockford, IL and scope out a robbery. A local goon spots Nolan and shoots him.
After his recovery Nolan is stuck with $100 of emergency money and decides it is time to clear up this long running mess. He contacts a pal in the Quad Cities who is still involved with the Chicago outfit and Nolan proposes a truce with Charlie. Nolan and Charlie meet, Charlie says, "Sure, you pay me $100,000 and we'll call it square." Nolan is naturally suspicious but agrees to the deal. Nolan hears from his crime broker that a bank job is available. The other robbers are amateurs and hot heads but Nolan needs notes. One of those amateurs is Jon, the crime broker's nephew.
The story moves along with Nolan organizing the robbery. Having sex. Guessing how Charlie will betray him. Getting to know Jon. The amateur hot head worrying about his slatternly girlfriend. Comic book loving Jon modeling his robber-self after Nolan.
Things go bad but Nolan works it out. Just like Parker.
Blood Money has Nolan working for the Chicago outfit doing the kind of management work he did before he went on the run. The mob says Nolan can step back into night club management after a trial period at a resort in central Illinois. Nolan gets a call from Jon that crime broker has been murdered and his safe cleaned out. Nolan's nest egg was in that safe. Charlie was supposed to be killed by the mob but he is still alive. Charlie robbed the safe and is out for revenge on Nolan. Nolan heads out to investigate and gets a Chicago gunman following him around. Nolan drives around IL and IA finding Charlie.
I finished reading this a while ago so don't ask for plot details. Tough talk ensues. Pragmatism ensues. Emotion is set aside. Back stabbing is pondered. Death is deadly. Was there a kidnapping? Oh, yeah, there was a kidnapping. Charlie is killed and Nolan lives for the sequels.
1. The bank robbery in book one is set in a fictional Muscatine.
2. The afterword is a very interesting read. Collins's fore and afterwords always have really neat commentary and history. I'll have to re-read this one when I get home tonight. If I remember correctly this one covers how and why Collins use all three names for author heading.
3. I can never remember how many Ls are in his name.
4. This novel - like several other Collins novels - suffers only by not being a Quarry novel. That's because I love the Quarry novels so much.