Saturday, January 08, 2011

Spree by Max Allan Collins


I'm just about finished with my third or fourth reading of Max Collin's SPREE. This is not only one of my favorite of Al's books, it's one of my favorite books period. This is how you do it.

The Nolan series features a man formerly a man associated with the mob, though reluctantly, now trying to go straight with a restaurant in the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. Things are going along nicely until Cole Comfort and his dim son catch up with him. They hold him resposible for some of their serious bad luck.

To fully appreciate Cole you have reach back to William Falkner and Erskine Caldwell. Outwardly he's something of a stereotype hayseed, right down to his flannel shirts and bib overalls. But he's hard to peg, as one of his early victims learns. She wonders about a man who says "ain't" then a few sentences later uses the word "conduit." Go figure.

Cole Comfort is one of the great bad guys of hardboiled fiction. A man who has used his family to help him run every kind of scam, con and robbery you see on those WANTED posters in the post office. And not a sentimentalist. Oh, no. If he has to lose a loved one in the process of getting what he wants so be it.

Son Lyle is a twenty-three year old pretty boy who is in effect his father's robot. He doesn't want to kill anybody but just as the book opens he's about to off his sixth victim. He has flashes of remorse but they don't last longer than any of his other thoughts, around thirty seconds.

In broadstroke the story is a confrontation between Nolan and the Comforts. They are nasty sumbitches and make some of the mob men who tried to kill Nolan years earlier seem like nice guys.

What makes the book memorable is its successful balance of hard boiled suspense and wit. No easy task. Nolan is just detached enough to function as a mercenary when he goes after the Comforts for kidnapping his woman (Collins partially modeled him after Lee Van Cleef) but believable enough to really care about her. Collins' description of their relationship is winning and unique.

But the Comforts take the book. Loathsome as they are--Cole is a combination of Bubba and Richard Speck--you can't look away no matter how grotesque they become. Most of the Comfort scenes have me smiling all the way through. Several have me laughing out loud.

Spree is pure twisty pleasure and a major book in Collins' career.


Randy Johnson said...

I've just begun to try to find this series, ordering FLYPAPER from a used book site. they are kind of pricey so it's slow going.

It would be nice to see someone put out a new set of the Nolans. My interest was peaked by HCC'ss issue of the first two in TWO FOR THE MONEY.

Matt Paust said...

You sold me! I've just received three of his novels - two in the Heller series and The Last Quarry - and I know I will especially appreciate SPREE because I learned to write news stories at what is now the Quad-City Times. Great location for news hounds.

RJR said...

My favorite Nolan book, Ed.


Anonymous said...

this was one of the best heist novels I read. Whether he ever brings back Nolan or not, it would be nice if Collins returned to the "caper" novel.

Dan Luft