With Father’s Day just around the corner, I decided to read a fatherly-themed vintage, horror paperback. After a quick scan of my collection, I managed to find the perfect story – assuming, of course, you’re sick and twisted. The story begins with Carnes and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Deirdre, taking a road trip through the rural United States. After a dated discussion regarding Michael Jackson and MTV, they decide to stop for the night in the small town of Burton. When dad returns with the room keys, his jovial mood turns to terror when he discovers that Deirdre is missing. He immediately goes into a panic and for good reason, too, as his daughter is now in the clutches of a savage rapist/murderer! For this reason alone, Daniel Ransom’s 1985 horror paperback, “Daddy’s Little Girl,” should have more aptly been titled, “Daddy’s Worst Nightmare.”
As a father, the initial premise of this book is truly horrific; calling to mind today’s issues of human trafficking along with old memories of kids on the back of milk cartons. They say the worst is the “not knowing” but Ransom makes it clear from the start that this kidnapper’s objective is to rape, torture, and kill his victim. Unfortunately, this frightening dynamic gets eclipsed by the shady townspeople themselves. One of the biggest problems with this relatively short book is that it has far too many characters; most of which are idiots.
Beth Daye: The lone reporter for the local paper. Beth suspects something is off with the community after her husband dies and leaves one of the vaguest clues in criminal history – a journal with the single sentence, “June 8, 1953. The insatiable animal is born.”
Sheriff Wayman: A guilt-ridden, mess of a man who spends most of the story hugging his dead wife’s headstone rather than any police work. How bad is he at his job? After Deirdre is kidnapped he initially suspects her father, Carnes. Instead of keeping him at the station, he takes him out for breakfast and introduces him to Beth so she can keep an eye on him, instead. SPOILER: Beth will end up keeping both eyes on Carnes as they inevitably fall in love. Carnes is confused as to how he managed to find romance while his daughter’s life is in jeopardy and, quite frankly, so was I!
Richard – A mentally challenged man who witnessed Deirdre’s kidnapping but is too scared to talk. In typical ‘80s pulp fashion, we’re also treated to his unnecessary backstory – that he was once a normal functioning kid until he went for a hike in the woods and caught some guy masturbating. Afraid Richard would go back and tell the locals, the guy knocks him over the head with a rock rendering him permanently brain-damaged. The potential dangers of self-stimulation are mentioned a few times in this story so, if you’re part of Reddit’s anti-fapping movement, you may want to pitch this book in your next thread.
Vince Reeves: The sheriff’s deputy who, two weeks prior to the events of this story, witnessed something so horrible that he’s now suffering from an incurable case of premature ejaculation.
Ruth and Minerva: A couple of old spinsters whom the town refers to as “the girls.” Minerva once served as the wealthy Ruth’s servant before they started living together as platonic pals. So deep is Miverva’s devotion to Ruth that she never questions why she occasionally hears “shrieks” coming from the cellar, nor why their palatial estate is surrounded by an electric fence.
Reverend Heath – A minister with a degree in psychology. Due to these extensive qualifications, Sheriff Wayman calls on him to provide religious “counsel” to all his suspects. They think they’re getting spiritual guidance when, in reality, they’re receiving a psychological assessment. After a five-minute conversation, Reverend Heath immediately tells the Sheriff whether he thinks they’re innocent or guilty; thereby saving him the trouble of an actual investigation.
Dave Evans: A wealthy, high school bully whose muscular stature could have gotten him a football scholarship had he not aspired to juvenile delinquency. Far from your average idiot, Dave has a shrewd head for business, illustrated by him videotaping his dad having sex with a mistress and then threatening to show the footage to his mom unless he gets a better allowance. His sole motivation in this story is to have sex with high school mean girl Angie (don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about Angie soon) because, as the book puts it, “Having seen those luscious lips outlined in her pants he needed to taste them.”
Bobby: Dave’s nerdy sidekick. Bobby knows his best friend’s a dick but understands the importance of having him around as protection from the other school ruffians. This would make a lot more sense if not for the fact that Dave treats him just as badly; pushing him around and forcing him to listen to how great he thinks he is.
Angie: Angie was clearly modeled after the Chris Hargenson character (played by Nancy Allen in the film adaptation) of Stephen King’s Carrie (1976). In fact, just like Chris in Carrie, she and her friends bully a girl in the school shower. Angie’s results, however, aren’t quite as effective. After creating chaos, the steam from the shower blocks the bully girls’ escape, causing Angie and her friends to keep “running into walls and boobs and crotches.” She also toys with Dave by making him do all kinds of tests in exchange for the promise of sex – a promise she has no intention of fulfilling.
Carl Laumer: A grenade-carrying mercenary who thinks Adolf Hitler was really on to something.
These characters comprise multiple subplots whose connections to the overall storyline are often tenuous at best. Meanwhile, poor Deirdre is chained somewhere naked while some freak is “violating her body and threatening her vagina.” The urgency of this situation, juxtaposed with the numerous characters and lackadaisical efforts to find her, becomes downright frustrating for the reader.
Despite playing out as a Thriller, “Daddy’s Little Girl” does check off most of the boxes in terms of your classic ‘80s horror paperback. We have that glorious Zebra Books/skeleton cover that has nothing to do with the story. We’ve got a disjointed narrative that often doesn’t make any sense. We have a head-scratching twist ending. There’s also plenty of gratuitous sexual content with rape used as a casual plot device. While this story isn’t quite as egregious as, say, a William Johnstone novel, it’s definitely in the running.
Daniel Ransom was a pen name for author, Ed Gorman (1941-2016). He would write eight horror novels under this moniker and I currently own three of them. Knowing what I know now, will I read the other two? Probably. In fact, I’ll probably read more William Johnstone books too which, after “Toy Cemetery,” should tell you how high my tolerance is for this nonsense.
Genre: Vintage horror paperback (but I say more of a thriller)
Subgenre: Psychos and small-town secrets
Page count: 333
The Message: What a small, rural community lacks in population it more than makes up for in insanity.
Shelf it or Scrap it? What? Scrap a vintage Zebra horror paperback with a skeleton cover!?! Hell no! “Daddy’s Little Girl” is this Daddy’s Little Investment.