For the uninitiated, Nolan is a hard-nosed thief who makes a living pulling heists that inevitably run into problems. Much of this book’s focus is on Jon, Nolan’s comic book collecting sidekick. The action kicks off with a colleague named Breen, who has a good thing going with a parking meter rip-off scam. Breen was working the coin theft organized by the redneck Comfort family before those hillbillies shot and double-crossed Breen landing him squarely in Nolan and Jon’s orbit.
This leads to a plan to rip off the Comfort family in a heist-the-heisters kinda deal. The action moves from Iowa to Detroit in the shadow of a large comic book convention. The heist itself is really a side-dish in the paperback with the main course being the commercial airline getaway that is interrupted by a skyjacking.
Between 1961 and 1972, there were 159 skyjackings in American airspace with the majority between 1968 and 1972. It was a vexing criminal social contagion without a clear solution - similar to the problem America currently faces with mass shootings. Collins draws upon this phenomenon as the backdrop of Fly Paper when a married guy plans a D.B. Cooper style airplane heist with a parachute getaway.
When Nolan and Jon are coincidentally on the plane as the dude takes control of the jet, the plotting and action soar. These are the best scenes in a book I’ve read in ages. The creativity at work with the dilemma facing Nolan and Jon sets Fly Paper apart from other heist novels of the paperback original era.
Fly Paper is also unquestionably the best of the first three Nolan novels. The inclusion of Jon as a sidekick gives the book its own identity rather than just being a cover song from a Richard Stark Tribute Band. The skyjacking storyline was brilliant, and everything about his slim paperback leaves the reader wanting more. Highest recommendation.