Tuesday, December 8, 2009
THE CLOCK STRIKES 12 by H. R. Wakefield
Actually, it's more like "stories from THE CLOCK STRIKES 12" since this paperback, despite the ultra-cool cover illustration (by an uncredited artist), is not the full text of Wakefield's 1940 collection, but "highlights", one supposes.
H. Russell Wakefield is one of the great giants of the traditional English ghost story, but this collection is not his best work; in fact, this marks the start of Wakefield's decline, when his work was marred by sadistic endings and trite revenge plots. And I have to say...few of the stories in this book are particularly memorable, although some have their moments.
So, to do a rundown...
"Into Outer Darkness" is the basic tale of two people spending a night in a haunted room and experiencing Horrible Things. It's hard for me to be thrilled by this because it's got the sort of ending that I've heard a million times before; I can't be sure if this was the first or what. But it doesn't seem fresh.
"The Alley" tells of how Vulgar Rich People buy an Old House With A Haunted Room, and then Horrible Things happen. Despite its clunky plot, I have to admit, it's got some moments of shuddersome atmosphere and the haunting is given an interesting backstory.
"Jay Walkers" isn't much of a story, more like a padded vignette about a haunted stretch of road, and an investigation into the backstory. Again, it has some moments of atmosphere, but that's about it.
"Ingredient X" has a gentleman of reduced circumstances renting a room in a boarding house that, of course, is haunted. Not terribly exciting or memorable.
"'I Recognized the Voice'" is a blah tale of psychic visions of murder. "Farewell Performance" is something that's now a familiar theme, a ventriloquist's dummy taking on a life of its own. Maybe original in its time, but after seeing a billion variations on the theme, it's not terribly interesting.
"In Collaboration" is a revenge tale of a writer who steals a friend's idea for a novel, and later finds himself hounded by the friend's ghost and unable to come up with any original ideas himself. OK for what it is. "Lucky's Grove" is one I've read before, a pointlessly nasty story of a Vulgar Rich Family that chops a Christmas tree from a grove sacred to Loki, and the Horrible Things that result.
"Happy Ending" also blah, of a psychic flash of a possible suicide. "The First Sheaf" is probably the most interesting of the lot, a tale of human sacrifice and pagan practices in a remote corner of England. "Used Car" is simply dreadful, a trite tale of a haunted automobile. And the closer, "Death of a Poacher," is another of those stories that I read twice and can't retain anything of it.
It almost pains me to be so harsh of someone who's a star of the ghost story canon, but this collection is definitely some of Wakefield's lesser work. Some of it is just flat-out bad. So many of these stories have hackneyed plot devices, but I will freely admit that it's possible they only seem hackneyed sixty years after they were published, after being repeated over and over until they're worn to a nub. But none of the freshness has remained.
Still, that cover illustration is great. If anyone can figure out the artist, I'd love to hear it.