Baby Moll by John Farris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the first of the Hard Case Crime series I've read. The series has made a name for itself by republishing lots of great but nearly forgotten noir gems. In this book, Peter Mallory, our antihero, has left the mob behind to start a new law-abiding life. He's got it all--a shop by the beach in California, a house, a rich and beautiful fiancee. But then the mob pulls him back, as the mob always does in these books, and he has to help his old boss solve a series of murders--someone is picking off the mob boss's subordinates ones by one and he's convinced the list will end with him. Because the boss is Peter's father figure, he reluctantly agrees to help.
At this point the narrative slows. Much time is spent in the mob headquarters, a beachside bungalow filled with a variety of lost souls. They all have their hangups and madness and they all drink way too much. They also don't seem to do much of anything else. Everyone knows the boss is losing his grip on the territory and is terrified of the mysterious murderer, giving the place a sort of Hitler's bunker feel. While this is effective, there's such a large cast of misfits we don't get to know any of them terribly well, and entire chapters go by without Peter doing anything to solve the murders.
The final third of the novel speeds up considerably as Peter gets out into the world more. He writes about he seamy side of the 1950s brilliantly, showing the poverty, ignorance, and brutality that Hollywood films of the era tended to ignore. There's also an epic fight scene that's handled very effectively.
While I enjoyed this novel and will definitely pick up more from Hard Case Crime, the pacing on this one was too uneven to give it four stars.
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