Retro fix–Max Allan Collins’ early Nolan novel “Hard Cash” returns in 2-for-1 volume “Tough Tender”

Review by C.J. Bunce

The underworld of prolific master crime writer Max Allan Collins doesn’t get much darker than in the novels chronicling his anti-hero thief known only as Nolan.  And that series hardly got darker than the fifth novel, the 1982 pulp novel, Hard Cash, which has arrived thanks to Hard Case Crime in a 2-for-1 edition called Tough Tender It’s bundled with Scratch Fever, another Nolan novel, and part of a series of reprints that provide some of the best value around for pulp crime readers and fans of Collins’ unique voice.  For a limited time Amazon is offering the combo for a discount here at only $9.90.

The fun of this story is Collins returning to the Comforts–his half-arsed crime family that lie and cheat and steal and kill, but always seem to be ten steps behind Nolan and his trusty partner Jon.

Nolan is Collins’ Lee Van Cleef lookalike, a bad guy who thinks he’s a good guy in a world of creeps and criminals worse than him.  In his early forties Nolan is in a field like professional sports–which means it’s time to retire–but the world of crime in Eastern Iowa keeps pulling him back in.  Hard Cash takes place after Bait Money (reviewed here), which was published as part of the Two for the Money reprint combo.

Readers will find some mention of the aftermath of that prior story, but here it all begins with Nolan and Jon sharing in their restaurant investment, the seafood restaurant called The Pier.  But it’s too bad for them both that they decided to go legit so close to Port City, where they pulled off a heist at the First National Bank.  When the bank president who was held up spots Nolan, he doesn’t do anything you’d expect.  He wants Nolan to rob his bank again.

At the same time, one of Nolan’s old connections gets murdered up north.  A coincidence?  Nolan doesn’t think so.

Jon is back as that young version of Nolan–who also has all those interests of a young Max Allan Collins–a guy who wants to create comic books for a living.  He’s also in a band, which has been a big part of Collins’ life then and now.

It’s difficult to find a worse family in crime than Sam Comfort and his boys.  They are truly vile and it’s easy to cheer in any Nolan story as he picks them off one after another.  And here he might get another chance.  Then again, he might not.

Expect the celebrated Road to Perdition, Dick Tracy, and Mike Hammer writer’s brand of rough sex, racist characters, and violence we’ve seen in his Quarry series and previously reviewed Nolan novels.  Hard Cash is another Collins quick read with a quick payoff.  Collins describes Nolan as “Lee Van Cleef crawled down off the screen out of a Sergio Leone western,” and artist Mark Eastbrook paints him accordingly on the cover of Tough Tender as he did on the covers for Two for the Money as well as the covers of Skim Deep, and Double Down.  

Order Tough Tender, including Hard Cash, here at Amazon, and check out another double-trouble set, Double Down, also available, in addition to the previously mentioned Nolan novels mentioned above.  Skim Deep may be the most fun of them all.  Keep coming back to borg where we’ll double back to the second novels in these 2-for-1 editions from Hard Case Crime later this year.

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