Ed here: I'm such an Al Collins fan that it's impossible for me to choose a favorite. But this may be it or at least is very close. Character, plot and writing impeccable. Read it to enjoy and writers read it to learn. It's a hardboiled masterpiece.
This is my favorite of Collins' Nolan series. 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 haydseed, 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.