Two for the Money is Hard Case Crime’s reprint of Max Allan Collins’s first two Nolan novels. The first novel, Bait Money, finds Nolan convalescing after a run-in with an operative from Chicago’s Outfit. Nolan’s getting tired and decides to reach out to an old Outfit contact to settle a sixteen year old dispute involving one of the local bosses. He’s given the opportunity to commit “one last heist” to pay off his debt and an inexperienced crew to pull off the job. The story follows the planning, execution, and short-term fallout of the heist.
Book Two, Blood Money, follows the more long term fallout from the heist. Nolan is now semi-retired and running an Outfit resort in the Midwest, no longer on the run or in the game. He receives word that an old friend (from the first book) is killed and their take from the heist is stolen.
If you couldn’t tell from the descriptions, Bait Money is a heist book and Blood Money is a revenge book. Hard Case Crime has done Collins a great service by reprinting these two in one volume. You can view Bait Money as acts one and two of the story and Blood Money as act three.
Collins himself admitted that Nolan started off as a rip-off of Donald Westlake’s Parker stories, but Collins rises above mere parody. The heist and action pieces are well done, but Collins shines in the quieter moments when the characters get to know each other better. Nolan is initially disdainful of his young, comic book-loving apprentice Jon, but as the story goes along, you can see Nolan starting to treat Jon as almost a surrogate son.
Collins is one of the most prolific authors we have these days. He’s also a master of pacing, language, and character. Mark this one down as recommended.