Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, July 17, 2020


The Thing That Made Love by "David V. Reed" (1950)

Published in a cheap digest edition with a provocative (for the times) cover from Uni Books, here are some of the blurbs:

  • Out of the swamp crept this figment of a fevered prey...
And from Mammoth Detective, November 1944, where the story first appeared under the title "The Metal Monster Murders":
  • The Most Unusual Mystery since "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
  • Before your very eyes you see a monster kill a lovely girl!  But can you believe what you see?  Here is the most terrifying, mysterious, weird tale of murder you have ever read!
  • Three women and a man died -- murdered by a metal horror.  Yet two of them still stalk the streets; to provide a mad alibi!
And that provocative cover?  A Marilyn Monroe look-alike on  mountain of metal, her blouse torn down to her midriff, her low-cut, black lace bra showing a lot of breast, looks up in horror as a dark figure with a metal hand looms over her.

Zowie!  Wow!  With that kind of hype this could have been a contender.  Except it wasn't.  The 1950 Uni Book edition was the only book edition of this novel, which sank without a trace.

The author, "David V. Reed" (David Vern, born David Levine, 1914-1994, or perhaps 1984 -- both dates have been given), began publishing in 1939; most of his stories were published in magazines -- science fiction and otherwise -- edited by Raymond A. Palmer.  In other words, they were quick, facile, and aimed at a younger audience.  Reed was perhaps best known for his sequel to Don Wilcox's "The Whispering Gorilla," aptly titled "The Return of the Whispering Gorilla"; the two stories were combined in 1950 as The Whispering Gorilla.  He was also the author of Murder in Space, an attempt to merge the murder mystery with a western in outer space.  Much of his work was published under house names, many of which are not known, but include Alexander Blade, Craig Ellis, Clyde Woodhouse, and Peter Horn.  In the 1950s, he had a noted run writing Batman adventures for DC Comics; he returned to Batman for a three-year stint in 1975, replacing writer Denny O'Neill.

Reed was not adverse to adding his professional friends and colleagues in his work.  He appears as himself in The Thing That Made Love in a major role.  Peripheral characters in the original puplp magazine story include Alfred and Rollie Bester, "Craig Ellis," John Broome, Henry Kuttner, David Wright O'Brien, "Lee Rogow," and Manly Wade Wellman.  Ellis and Rogow were pseudonyms used by Reed.  Many of these nods to his friends carried over to the 1950 novel, as did mention of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Detective Agency.

The book itself is a compilation of documents, notably a "diary" written by Elliott Hammond, a newspaperman accused of murder; the diary is more a collection of memories and impressions, written after the fact by a very unreliable narrator.  This is backed up with various letters, court transcripts, newspaper stories, and David V. Reed's editorial comments.  The last fifty pages includes various theories on what just did happen in the novel.

Elliot Hammond has long been in love with Jean Lowell.  While on assignment to write an article about growing war production, including scrap, Hammond goes to a large scrap yard -- hundreds of acres of mountains of metal intertwined with a labyrinth of paths, all located on a swamp -- and meets the man in charge who happens to be his old friend Jim Shilling, whom he hadn't seen since Shilling mysteriously left three years before.  We later learn that Shilling had spent the time hopping from country to country, finally ending up in Peru.)  Hammond and Shilling renew their friendship and shortly thereafter Hammond brings Jean to a party on the barge by the scrapyard where Shilling lives.  When Jean and Shilling meet they fall instantly in love.  Realizing he now has no hope with Jean, he does the noble thing and approves of their relationship, continuing to remain good friends with Shilling.

But there is something wrong with the scrapyard.  Both Hammond and Shilling hear mysterious voices.  And there's a sense of...something...something wrong.  Soon they begin to hear a disembodied voice from the scrapyard, reciting poetry from Whitman and Milton among others.  Then they begin to get thoughts from somewhere outside their experience.  Whatever is in the scrapyard is telepathic and can enter either of their brains.  Eventually they realize that this is a living thing of unknown origin, a thing made of metal.  (Think Swamp Thing, or Theodore Sturgeon's "It.')  And it slowly dawns on them that the Thing has other, inexplicable powers.

The Thing (now capitalized) is trying to understand its place in the world and trying to relate to human emotions and feelings, including sex.  At the same time it is antagonistic to mankind and fears it.  One evening, it enters the mind of Katherine Gray, who was leaving Shilling's barge.  Katherine was mentally ravaged, dying in ecstasy, and somehow strangled.  Hammond had witnessed this but could not prevent it; the Thing had made a small part of itself visible -- a thin, metal coil about two inches long and glowing with a red hotness, floating in the air.  For the most part, the Thing remained invisable.  Later, the Thing mentally controls Katherine's body, making her walk past the scrapyard watchman as if nothing were wrong and leaving the scrapyard.

Then Hammond's newly-wed wife is murdered, her dead and strangled body somehow appearing at their apartment.  And Hammond is beginning to have strange dreams and hallucinations.  Will he be able to convince others -- and himself -- about what is really happening?  And what is really happening, anyway?  Two more people then die in a violent explosion,  were these deaths accidents or murder? 

Despite being a newsman, Hammond's mental state and his inability to put much of what he knows and feels into words makes his "dairy" writings confusing and, at the beginning, off-putting.  It is only after you get about a third of the way in do you begin to get a glimpse of what might have happened.  This may be why the book never made it into reprint.  A shame, because The Thing That Made Love is actually a very good book (heavy on the psychology, which only adds to the mystery and horror) despite its herky-jerky-ness and its inconsistencies.  The titillating parts aren't; they are about as exciting (but nowhere as explicit) as an army hygiene film.  This could be another reason why the book was not very successful.

For a pulp story that originated in a Ray Palmer magazine, this stands far above RAP's typical editorial fare.  The experimental nature of the story, combined with Hammond's confusing and unreliable story, mask a well-told mystery/horror story that is well worth plodding through the first 50 pages or so.

Abebooks lists two copies of The Thing That Made Love for a hundred bucks and more.  For the curious, Mammoth Detective November 1944 issue with "The Metal Monster Murders" is available online at Internet Archive.


  1. Any connection with "The Metal Monster" by A. Merritt?

    1. Absolutely none, Howard, although I think the editors of MAMMOTH DETECTIVE hoped readers would make a connection