One More Time for Nolan?

December 3rd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Apparently I told an interviewer a while back – a few years ago least – that the Nolan series was complete. That I had no interest in writing another, and wouldn’t under any circumstances write a new Nolan novel.

So, of course, I am preparing to write one. I’ll be spending December and January on Skim Deep, the cover for which (by the wonderful Mark Eastbrook, my personal choice among a bunch of wonderful artists provided as possibilities by editor Charles Ardai) appears with this update.

For those of you who came in late, Nolan was the hero (anti-hero?) of my first published novel, Bait Money, written around 1969 and published in December 1972. Nolan (no first name) is professional thief, who – approaching the ripe old age of fifty – wants to pull one last big job and retire. I teamed him with a young would-be cartoonist, Jon (no last name), whose first heist this would be.

Nolan was (and is) an homage (French for “rip-off”) to Richard Stark’s Parker. For a long time, Nolan died at the end of Bait Money, and until an editor returned the manuscript with coffee spilled on it, I had ignored my then agent Knox Burger’s request to un-kill Nolan, which he thought would help the book sell. I did, and it did.

When the publisher (Curtis Books) asked for more, I suddenly had a series. I asked Don Westlake (who of course was Richard Stark) if it was all right with him for me to do a series so blatantly imitative of his own. Don, who’d been mentoring me by mail, was nice enough to say that Nolan with the addition of the surrogate son, Jon, was different enough from Parker for me to proceed with his blessing.

So Blood Money followed, and later came Fly Paper, Hush Money, Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, and finally in the mid-‘80s, Spree. The publishing history is torturous and I won’t go into here, though I’ve discussed it elsewhere in detail.

There’s also a prequel of sorts called Mourn the Living, which was the first Nolan, unsold and tucked away by me till fanzine editor Wayne Dundee heard about it and requested that I allow him to serialize it. Which I did, and it was eventually published a couple of places.

When, a decade and a half ago or so, Charles Ardai was putting Hard Case Crime together, he was nice enough to want to reprint my novel Blood Money, which for inexplicable reasons was and is a favorite of his. I said yes on the condition that he combine it with Bait Money, to make its sequel Blood Money more coherent, into a single volume. He did this. Hard Case Crime is noted for its terrific retro covers, but the Nolan duo – now titled Two for the Money – was possibly the weakest Hard Case Crime cover ever…the only time dark, mustache Nolan was depicted as looking like blond Nick Nolte.

When Charles came around wanting another M.A.C. reprint, I offered to do a new book – The Last Quarry – instead, for the same reprint money, as long as I could get a Robert McGinnis cover. Also, I wanted a chance to finish that cult-ish series once and for all. While I got my McGinnis cover, the rest of the plan didn’t exactly work out that way, and now – with a bunch of new Quarry novels, a Ms. Tree prose novel, several Spillane projects and a couple of graphic novels under our collective belt – Charles has twisted my arm into doing another Nolan.

Part of what made that attractive to me was Charles bringing all of the Nolan novels back out, in the two-per-book format, so that – like the Quarry novels – the entire canon is under one imprint. Better still, we have new covers…including Two for the Money.

Double Down will include Fly Paper and Hush Money. Tough Tender will include Hard Cash and Scratch Fever (these appeared under that join title before but not at HCC). And Mad Money will have Spree and, as a sort of bonus, Mourn the Living.

What will Skim Deep be about? I haven’t plotted it yet, but the premise has to do with a Vegas honeymoon, casino skimming, and a Comfort or two. If you’ve read the Nolan novels, you understand that last bit.

As with the Quarry novels, I will be doing this one in period – probably within a year of the action in Spree.

Am I looking forward to it? Sort of. I have this nagging feeling that by writing another Nolan, at this age, after all this time, I could be bookending my career. So my ambition is not to fucking die immediately after finishing it (or during it, for that matter). I have other contracts to fill, and miles to go before I sleep.

But it sure is fun to see these new HCC covers. The Van Cleef resemblance (which was part of the Pinnacle covers, to a degree, and very much an element of the Perfect Crime reprints) is mentioned prominently in the novels. I met him once, interviewed him, and he treated me with amusement and at one point got briefly irritated with me. It was unsettling but memorable, being Jon to his Nolan. No guns were involved.

* * *

Here’s a nice essay by my frequent collaborator, Matthew Clemens, on what he learned about suspense writing from the film Jaws.

The First Comics News blog has Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother on its Christmas gift list.

And here Ms. Tree is on another holiday gift guide, from Previews no less.


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7 Responses to “One More Time for Nolan?”

  1. Thomas Zappe says:

    There has been some discussion of bookending one’s career here.

    Many composers were superstitious about writing a 9th symphony because that was as many a Beethoven finished before he died. Even though he shared that concern, Gustav Mahler did, after much hemming and hawing, produce a 10th symphony in manuscript just before going to that Great Orchestra in the Sky. His wife Alma, however, almost never let it be published since Mahler discovered that she was sleeping with ANOTHER COMPOSER. It seems that he included all sorts of unflattering references to and her lovers behaviour and heaped even more hot coals upon the interloper’s head concerning what a crummy composer he was in the margins of the symphony’s manuscript. She tried to suppress anyone seeing it during her lifetime, but word got out nonetheless.

    Presumably you won’t have this problem.

  2. Terry Beatty says:

    Before reading today’s post, I’d have said the best news about these new editions would be the great new Eastbrook covers. But now? More Comforts!

    No dying, though. Not allowed.

  3. Andreas Bengtsson says:

    Seems like a great opportunity to get familiar with Nolan.

  4. Neal Alhadeff says:

    Very exciting news!! Beautiful covers!!

    Now, when can we expect a new Mallory? :-)

  5. Sean Kelly says:

    Nolan reprints!!! Awesome!! Now I no longer have to worry about my slowly deteriorating paperbacks. Now we just need a Mallory resurgence to complete the trifecta.

    So my kid and I were fighting as to what to read for our annual Christmas story. I wanted Anna and the Apocalypse and she wanted Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe. We settled on “A Wreath for Mallory” and will continue with other stories from the Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. Although I am having to explain the jargon and for a moment she thought it was based in London (she didn’t remember where Wabash Ave. is)

  6. I doubt a Mallory return is in the cards. It would take the back of my brain coming up with something I can’t resist. Mallory has always been my least favorite series, although I am partial to A SHROUD FOR AQUARIUS. It would probably take Charles Ardai prodding me and I don’t know that he has any interest in that series.

    Sean, thanks again for sending me those boxes of laserdiscs, which had many discs of interest. A nice surprise! When are the rest of you people going to send me free stuff?!?!?

  7. Thomas Zappe says:

    Be careful what you wish for, some of us have your home address.