Thursday, September 25, 2008

Baby Moll by John Farris (writing as Steve Brackeen) (Hard Case Crime)

In the 1982 reprint of his modern classic Harrison High, author John Farris mentions in passing some "other novels" he wrote during the time it took him to write that book: "suspense thrillers ... published by Gold Medal Books under a pen name."

Baby Moll was the second of five novels that first saw print under the moniker Steve Brackeen, and Hard Case Crime is publishing it under Farris's own name for the first time. Farris also admits that, at the time of their first publication, he "fondly imagined [they] rivaled the best of John D. MacDonald."

Baby Moll is the story of Pete Mallory, who used to work for gangster Macy Barr, until he got tired of Barr (and his "whole rotten business") and walked out. Pete then settled down with a nice girl named Elaine and spent six years trying to forget his past.

The trouble comes, though, when others don't forget your past, and Barr uses Pete's most closeted skeleton to get him to come back and protect Barr from veiled death threats. But no sooner is Pete back in town than it seems he's also on somebody's hit list, so he's then on the hunt for two potential killers.

If "the best of John D. MacDonald" includes one of my favorites, Cry Hard, Cry Fast, then the young Farris comes very close, at least in terms of characterization. In general its embarrassing to realize what a skilled and confident proseslinger he was right out of high school. Because, to read Baby Moll, you'd never know that Farris wasn't a world-weary 50-year-old spilling his disappointment on the page — that he still had his whole career ahead of him.

Baby Moll offers up a rogues gallery of characters, dark underworld types and otherwise. Its not very predictable nature — along with its fairly atypical, original style — makes for an engaging read, and Farris offers an ending that is both touching and satisfying.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails