DAVID V. REED – The Thing That Made Love. Unibook #15, digest-sized paperback, 1951. Originally published as “The Metal Monster Murders” in Mammoth Detective, November 1944. Also published as I Thought I’d Die: Green Dragon #23, digest-sized paperback, 1946.

   I owe Bill Crider a debt of gratitude for cluing me into this book (follow the link and click on the back cover), and the miracle of the Internet for making it easy to find, for despite the trashy cover, this is a thoughtful story and one that will surprise you — even if you know a surprise is coming.

   The story here involves yet another mysterious and predatory thing lurking in a swamp, but unlike the pesky critter in Night of the Black Horror, this one is less tangible and more cerebral — they might even have titled it The Thing that Quoted Whitman, though that mightn’t have helped sales much.

   At any rate, the creature inhabits Jamaica Bay, New York, and as the story starts, it has established contact with a writer named Jim Shilling and is just beginning to exert its diabolical influence on Shilling’s journalist friend, Elliott Hammond.

   Here’s where things get tricky. Increasingly alarmed by the Thing and its growing power over him, Hammond relates events to a fantasy-writer friend of his, author David V. Reed. In fact, the novel is laid out as Reed’s collection of pages from Hammond’s journal, mixed in with newspaper clippings, interviews with Hammond’s psychiatrist and sundry input from various other interested parties.

   The multiple viewpoints, many of them first-person, could easily have become confusing, but Reed keeps it all running smoothly and clearly… and with increasingly ominous notes as the Thing begins to extend its control over Shilling and Hammond and young women start turning up dead — each with an unexplained look of ecstasy on her face. At length they work up a scheme to destroy the Thing, but it may be too late as Hammond finds himself more and more living in a world of hallucination and horror….

   I won’t reveal too much more here except to say that author Reed rings in a surprise I found truly ingenious. He also throws in references to fellow-writer John Broome and the Continental Op, making this book a sneaky treat for fans of comic books (Reed wrote memorably for Batman in the 50s and 70s, and Broome brought the silver-age Flash into four-color stardom in the 1960s.) and lovers of Hammett’s pulp classics.

   And for me there was an added and very personal pleasure: Reed created a character just exactly like a guy I once arrested, and I mean to say the parallels left me gasping with surprised recognition.

   In short, this is a gem one wouldn’t expect to find behind that lurid cover and trashy title, and a genuine treat in my Halloween bag.