Two for the Money - Max Allan Collins 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.