VICTOR NORWOOD – Night of the Black Horror. Badger Books, paperback, 1961.

   This is perhaps the finest novel ever written in the English language. Or perhaps not. Certainly it can’t be judged by the criteria we apply to most fiction: originality, prose, characterization or plot, yet I found it one of the most compulsively readable books I’ve opened this year.

   A bit of research revealed that the first part of Night/Horror was stolen from a short story, “Slime” by Joseph Payne Brennan, and I mean Stolen, with characters and situations only slightly modified, as a formless, blob-like (Brennan got a cash settlement from the makers of that movie) deep-sea Thing gets blasted out of the ocean depths and lands in a swamp somewhere in the southern USA — one of those isolated rural burgs beloved in the Horror Genre, with the added twist that Author Norwood sometimes has his yokels lapse into British colloquialisms, as when the Sheriff tells everyone to park their cars with the bonnets close together.

   Given such literary larceny and idiomatic ineptitude, Night of the Black Horror should have been a total waste, but — no kidding — I found myself completely gripped in its spell as the formless thing begins to creep out of the swamp at night, absorbing swine, ’gators, and the occasional landed gentry.

   In short order it attracts the attention of a vacationing scientist, his handsome young assistant and (surprise!) beautiful daughter. A few more folks come to a (literally) sticky end before the Army comes in (“We’ll try it with flame-throwers and I’ll have men standing by with bazookas…”) and things get really nasty.

   Norwood shows real flair for moving a story along quickly, and he writes the nasty bits just visceral enough to be vivid without getting disgusting. And if the characters seem a bit pat, I had fun visualizing their cinematic counterparts. I could almost see John Agar, Faith Domergue and that grand old man of Sci-Fi, Morris Ankrum, strutting across pages I couldn’t turn fast enough.

   Great literature? Hardly. But for a fast, fun read you couldn’t ask for better.