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Double Down


Double Down

DOUBLE DOWN contains two books from Max Allan Collins’ Frank Nolan series, which was originally published almost 50 years ago. Both are gems. Nolan, a master criminal heist planner, was too good a character in too good a series to dwell in obscurity.

Hard Case Crime has been releasing these titles in the same manner in which Ernest Hemingway’s characters go bankrupt: gradually and then suddenly. TWO FOR THE MONEY, containing reprints of two novels that first appeared in the early 1970s, was published in 2004. Then...crickets until 2020, when SKIM DEEP appeared. Now we are blessed just a few months later with DOUBLE DOWN, which revives FLY PAPER and HUSH MONEY. Both are as sharp, fresh and entertaining as if they were written yesterday.

"[W]e are blessed...with DOUBLE DOWN, which revives FLY PAPER and HUSH MONEY. Both are as sharp, fresh and entertaining as if they were written yesterday."

ROAD TO PERDITION, which is arguably Collins’ best-known work, was almost 20 years in his future when FLY PAPER and HUSH MONEY were published. The Nolan books demonstrate that the talent that gave rise to ROAD TO PERDITION was firmly established well before Michael O’Sullivan was introduced to the world of crime fiction. FLY PAPER finds Nolan running what is, for all intents and purposes, a hotel management school in an Iowa resort for the Chicago crime syndicate. The mob in the 1970s is in the process of converting its interests into legitimate businesses, and it needs people to run them. Nolan shows them how it is done and sends them on his way. He is paid well enough for this, though it is far from a princely sum. The worst of it, though, is that he is bored.

So when a former associate of Nolan’s turns up on his doorstep, bloodied but unbowed as the result of a doublecross, Nolan is interested in acquiring a little off-the-books side action while helping his former/current partner-in-crime obtain a measure of revenge. He is assisted in this endeavor by Jon, his protégé of sorts, an aspiring comic book artist who also shows some talent in criminal matters. He just needs guidance, which Nolan is more than able to give. Meanwhile, a clever but not smart engineer is working on his own, unrelated heist. As might be expected, paths will cross and turns will twist all the way to a surprise ending in which the coincidences are actually credible and entertaining, even as the reader wonders what occurred the next day, and thereafter.

HUSH MONEY takes place almost immediately after FLY PAPER. A sniper is targeting the members of the DiPretas, a well-known Iowa family who has long been suspected of having ties to organized crime. It is all but certain that the bloody murders are motivated by some kind of revenge. The Chicago crime family approaches Nolan, requesting that he make the problem stop. It takes a while --- an interesting “while,” for sure --- for the reader to learn the whys of the murders, as well as the reason that Nolan is somewhat uniquely qualified for the job. Jon is along again, of course, and finds himself in an extremely interesting situation that might cause him trouble, although he has no desire to extricate himself from it. There are a number of unexpected twists and turns, which serves as a reminder that Collins has been writing memorable crime fiction for well over four decades with no apparent sign of slowing down.

Either of the novels contained in DOUBLE DOWN would be worth the price of admission all by itself. The Hard Case Crime imprint has plans to publish the remaining volumes in the series on a slow roll over the next couple of years, and lovers of crime fiction as it was meant to be written will be the richer for it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 11, 2021

Double Down
by Max Allan Collins