Before he became a successful author of horror fiction, John Farris wrote crime and mystery paperback novels, including a 1958 release titled “Baby Moll” initially published by Crest Books (Fawcett Gold Medal’s sister imprint) under the pseudonym of Steve Brackeen. The book was re-released under Farris’ own name by Hard Case Crime in 2011 back when the company’s primary business was reprinting lost classic crime fiction titles with snazzy new covers.
Fishing supply store owner Pete Mallory is our narrator, and he’s engaged to marry a blue-blood heiress named Elaine. Pete has a secret past he hasn’t told Elaine that might throw a monkey-wrench in their wedding plans. You see, Pete used to run with a gangster named Macy who controls the rackets in South Florida, and someone has been bumping off members of Macy’s old crew one-by-one with maximum brutality and suffering. Macy needs Pete to come out of retirement, identify the killer, and neutralize him before the gangster boss gets a knife in the belly. The request is spiced with a dash of blackmail, so Pete isn’t in a position to decline. As such, it’s off to Florida for our narrator.
Of course, agreeing to this assignment from his former boss puts Pete squarely in the cross-hairs, and this leads to some vivid, violent, and visceral action sequences throughout the paperback. The core of the novel is Pete’s investigation into who is killing Macy’s inner circle. Is it a rival gangster looking to move into Macy’s turf? Could it be a grudge from the past coming back to haunt the aging racketeer?
The plot also revolves around the fact that Macy is getting too old to run his crime empire. A younger upstart - who may or may not be responsible for all the killing - is on the rise in Florida. Pete finds himself in the middle of all this tension and becomes acquainted with the women in each mobster’s sphere of influence. Evidently, crime bosses and their lieutenants have chronic girl problems. Presumably, one of these women is the “Baby Moll” from the cover, but the paperback was clearly titled by a Fawcett Gold Medal executive seeking to monetize 1958 America’s fascination with Bad Girls. As is often the case, the actual contents of the book doesn't jibe with the cover art (either iteration) or the title. Consider yourself warned if you were looking for a story about a Godfather’s Woman.
Overall, “Baby Moll” was a fast and compelling reading experience. It’s a well-told story written with great maturity despite the fact that the author was only 22 years old at the time of publication. Perhaps there were too many characters, but you can just make a list on your bookmark to keep them straight. Thanks to Hard Case Crime, you should have no trouble scoring yourself a copy with new and alluring cover art. However, the story inside is what really counts, and this one is a winner.
If you read and enjoy “Baby Moll,” you should check out these three other early crime fiction paperbacks by John Farris:
- The Corpse Next Door by John Farris (Graphic Books, 1956)
- Danger in My Blood by Steve Brackeen (Fawcett Crest, 1958)
- Delfina by Steve Brackeen (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1962)
Buy a copy of this book HERE