Herbert Russell Wakefield was born in 1888 in Kent, England. He was educated at Marlborough College and later University College, Oxford where he took second-class honors in modern history. He served in the British army during World War I, eventually attaining the rank of captain. He went on to become chief editor for book publisher William Collins, Sons and Co. Wakefield’s expansive career as a writer of supernatural fiction is what draws our interest here, and he was one of the greats. He took inspiration from the works of M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood (two of my favorites as well!).
He produced several short story collections during his lifetime such as THEY RETURN AT EVENING (1928), A GHOSTLY COMPANY (1935), THE CLOCK STRIKES TWELVE (1939) and STRAYERS FROM THE SHEOL (1961).
Here’s a selection of a few of his stories:
1. “The Red Lodge” (1928) – An artist, his wife and their young son rent a place for a long vacation where they begin to feel a dark presence. Their son sees a “green monkey” in the nearby river that terrifies him, the wife glimpses people in the house where there should be none, and the husband senses three evil specters psychically tugging at him to open a windows at night to look upon them. This is a wonderfully atmospheric ghost story filled with dread for the evil that infects the lodge. A true classic!
2. “Blind Man’s Bluff” (1929) – A man travels to a secluded house called Lorn Manor that has been given to him by his real estate agent. The road leading to it is in bad shape and the house’s windows look like eyes when the sun hits them right. Inside the dark place, bodiless things brush against him as he struggles to find his way out.
3. “Used Cars” (1932) – A father buys a car for his daughter, but whenever it’s driven at night, there seems to be a pair of malicious beings present.
4. “Mr. Ash’s Studio” (1932) – A writer rents a studio where he can work in peace and quiet. It used to belong to an artist and still contains a painting he did of a beautiful woman. Another painting is filled with odd-looking, aggressive, red moths. His writing excels while in the studio. He begins to see the limping figure of a man in the shadows and a experiences a compulsion to try and see what happens there when he’s gone. Later, he learns the dark history of the studio.
5. “Ghost Hunt” (1938) – A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there has been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story. It was masterfully adapted for the radio program Suspense in 1949 (Relic Radio has a download of it here:http://www.relicradio.com/otr/2011/02/h292-ghost-hunt-by-suspense/ ).
6. “Lucky’s Grove” (1940) – A tree is placed in a wealthy man’s house to serve as their Christmas tree. It was taken from an area considered to be a sacred spot called Lucky’s Grove. The gathered family and workers begin to see ominous creatures lurking about and have disturbed dreams. Some even become deathly ill during the holiday celebrations that follow. One of the boys fashions a beastly-looking snowman for reasons he cannot explain.
7. “The Triumph of Death” (1948) – An evil, old woman enjoys bringing new servant women into her house which is haunted by malicious spirits. She pretends she doesn’t hear them, although some of the women can tell she does. She makes them read to her at night (one particular scene is an obvious nod to “Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James). The previous servant died in an apparent suicide. This is a very dark dark tale of an evil woman and the horde of malevolent ghosts who reside under the same roof.
Article by Matt Cowan