H. Russell Wakefield (1888-1964) is one author whose work has been pretty well overlooked, despite the fact that he is a fine and accomplished writer of supernatural horror stories “some of which rank alongside those of M..R. James, with whom he is sometimes compared,” as one critic noted.
During his lifetime Wakefield published some seven collections of stories, stories that are largely about “vengeful ghosts.” The last collection he published was called “Strayers from Sheol.” It appeared
in 1961 and it bears the imprint of Arkham House. Since then other compilations of his published and unpublished work have appeared, but none of these collection are complete in any way.
Indeed, three unpublished stories of interest and quality have turned up. They are comfortable, old-fashioned ghost stories, with just the right mixture of four ingredients: atmosphere, character, mystery, and
fear. Here are a few words about these three newly discovered stories.
“Blowing a Black Solitude” has the great period feel of the interwar years when Great Britain was still a force to be reckoned with. It is narrated by the private secretary of a publisher (Wakefield himself served in that capacity to the press baron Lord Northcliffe) who is invited to spend time at the publisher’s country home. Here he discovers that there is a room that no one enters. Indeed, in the past, no one ever slept in the same room twice. On the first opportunity to present itself, the narrator enters the room and is struck with the sense that “one was being observed by someone unseen.” Indeed, this proves to be the case, so rather than issue a Spoiler Warning, I will simply say that there are thrills and chills aplenty when someone does spend a night in the dark room. (For all that, I cannot resist quoting one short passage in which the narrator
concludes: “One cannot defeat Death, but one can become what is loosely called an Evil Spirit, a focus for the concentration of destructive energy, and, in that limited sense, Undying.”)
“A Crystal Pause” is one of those stories that is doubly interesting because it is inextricably tied to an incident or an event. The double interest of this story lives in the personality of the impressionable
narrator who visits old Eton College and in the event that occurs to him there that had to do with the Great War. Suffice it to say that this story should be read (and reread) on the eleventh of November, the day society honours its War Dead … who may not be quite as dead as we assume them to be. Not always are things (recalling the title of this atmospheric story) “crystal clear.”
“A Meeting off the Manacles.” The casual conversation that takes place amid the deck chairs on the promenade deck of an ocean-going vessel leads to unexpected revelations and consequences in this substantial and engrossing story, rich in characterization and in its glimpses of high society. What happens aboard the Melpomene is for the reader to discover for himself or herself. All I will say is that one of the
passengers avoid the vessel is a Professor and he has this to say: “There are a myriad things in the Cosmos that are, and for ever will be, inexplicable.” (Along the way the narrator explains what “the Manacles” – and they are crucial to the story and to its final, six-word sentence.
Three unusual – and hitherto unpublished – stories from the typewriter of the master ghost-story teller: — H. Russell Wakefield. — John Robert Colombo