Mad Money reprises in one volume with great cover art, volumes 7 and 8 of the Nolan franchise (although chronologically volume 8 (Mourn the Living) takes place a decade earlier than even Nolan# 1 (Bait Money)).
In Spree, Collins takes an ex mobbed-up guy and pair him with an overgrown 20year old comic book collector who also plays in a rock band and has a Charles Atlas physique and you have the Nolan and Jon series. This is the final book in the terrific seven book series and it is a great crime thriller that is both easy to read and quick reading.
The basic plot is that, after pulling off a few capers together, Nolan and Jon have both retired from the business. Nolan runs a restaurant/ nightclub called Nolan’s and is shacked up with a twenty-two year old blonde Sherry who is also the hostess at his restaurant. Jon is shacked up with the lead singer of his band, but she is heading off to greener pastures and leaving him without a band and without a home. Meanwhile, the Comfort clan rears its ugly head again. One of them spots Nolan and they figure if they grab the girl, they can force him to pull off the ultimate caper with them. This book feels more like one of Westlake’s Parker books than any of the other Nolan books, particularly when it comes to putting together the crew and pulling off the heist and all the double and triple crossing that follows.
This is kind of a different version of Nolan than readers of this series might be used to. “In Nolan’s life, right now, comfort was very important.” He circulates around his restaurant, greeting patrons, and spends nights sometimes “stretched out on a recliner” and watching a boxing match. He now has a slight paunch and plays golf with other business owners in the community.
Sherry had originally been a waitress at a motel he ran for the mob and he had fired her for spilling coffee on too many customer’s laps. “Then she sat on his, and they wound up spending the summer together. When she wasn’t in a bikini, poolside, she was in his bed and wasn’t in a bikini.” Now, she’s plotting to get Nolan to Vegas and get hitched.
What makes this book stand out from all the various crime thrillers available is Collins’ writing, particularly his character development. For instance, the Comforts are a backwoods redneck family with the patriarch (Coleman Comfort) of the family wandering around in overalls. His airhead son, Lyle, dresses like a Miami Vice character but has the brains of a mosquito. Lyle didn’t really like killing people, but he did what Pa told him to do. Lyle’s sister is Cindy Lou, a cute curvy strawberry blonde freckle-faced sixteen-year old who dresses in a halter and short jeans and barefeet and comes across as “being somewhere between Daisy Mae and Lolita.”
The portraits drawn of the Comfort family are just charming. Old Coleman Comfort’s wife had been all “Georgia peaches and cream.” “Thick as a plank she was, but she kept her looks over the years; never ran to fat.” “What did it matter if she thought two plus two was twenty- two, and signed her name with an X?”
In this book as in the others in the series, Nolan realizes that he can never fully retire, that he always is going have to be on his guard, and that the shadows from the past will always haunt him. All in all, this book is exactly what you should expect from Collins: a terrific read that, once you start, you won’t put down no matter how late the hour.
The second novel in this two-fer set is Mourn the Living.
“Mourn the Living” was the final book published in the Nolan series, but chronologically it takes place ten years prior to the events in Bait Money when Jon meets Nolan. This was also the first one created in the series, written while Collins was still in College.
So does Nolan work without the juxtaposition of the seasoned criminal with the young, naive Jon. You bet it does. In some ways, with Nolan operating as a lone wolf in a strange town, particularly a college town,it does feel more like a Quarry novel than a Nolan one.
What’s great about this book is that it takes place shortly after Nolan makes his break from the Chicago outfit (a resignation given in bullets) and you get all the details laid out. Also, you can see how much a thorn in the side of the Outfit Nolan had quickly become.