MAX COLLINS – Hard Cash. Nolan #5. Pinnacle, paperback original, 1982. Reprinted as by Max Allan Collins, Perfect Crime Books, softcover, 2012.

   Professional criminal Nolan is going straight now as co-owner and manager of a seafood restaurant “on the banks of the Iowa River,” but his criminal past confronts him in the person of George Rigby, president of a local bank that Nolan had held up a couple of years earlier.

   Rigby is being eased out of his executive position and, knowing that his unfortunate habit of using bank funds for his own purpose will be disclosed in the next audit, wants Nolan to bring off a hit that will enable Rigby to restore the missing funds and support him and his ambitious mistress in his new life. His lever with the unwilling Nolan is a series of compromising photographs, so Nolan and Jon, Nolan’s young comic collector and artist side-kick, agree to co-operate and begin to set up the operation for Christmas Eve.

   Collins’ second plot line also concerns an incident in Nolan’s past, with murderous Sam Comfort and his surviving son, Terry, out to avenge their treatment by Nolan and his friends in an earlier drama of betrayal and revenge.

   The two plots — the bank job and the Comforts’ vengeance — coincide at the bloody climax of a sordid, improbable, and entertaining web of deceit and coincidence.

   Collins returns here to the competent form of the first two Nolan novels, and my only complaint concerns the padded exposition (for the convenience of readers unfamiliar with the earlier novels) and the coincidental deliverance of Nolan and Breen in the climax and denouement.

   Everyone’s plans go awry in this novel, and Nolan is as much a victim as the other characters, although he is luckier than any of his antagonists. The fates do conspire to do in the “truly” wicked, but they also do in one of Nolan’s confederates and spare Nolan himself a couple of turns of the wheel that seem intended only to leave the way open for the next book in the series. Sidekick Jon is still an appealing character, made all the more so by his reluctance to continue his life of crime.

   Nolan has been compared to Richard Stark’s Parker, but the Collins’ series lacks the bitter edge and power of the Stark novels, although this is a good suspense melodrama in a minor key.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 4, July-August 1982.