Richard Martin Oscar Cook, who commonly went by his third name Oscar, was born in greater London, the second son of Henry Adcock Cook (b. 1858), an athletic goods manufacturer, and Alice Cole (b. c. 1861), who were married in the Parish of St. James, Muswell Hill, Middlesex on 30 October 1885. Besides an older brother he had a younger sister. Little is known of his youth and early adulthood, but he was educated at St. Catherine’s School and the family lived for a time in Broxbourne. At the time of the 1911 Census, Oscar was working as an insurance clerk in Broxbourne. By June 1912, he was nine thousand miles away from home in Borneo, where, finding himself out of a job after a disagreement with his employer at the Beaufort Borneo Rubber Company, he joined the North Borneo Civil Service, in whose employ he remained for about eight years, returning to
in 1920. Back in London England he was encouraged by friends to write a
personal memoir of his time in Borneo, and
when completed, he took his manuscript to the literary agency Curtis
Brown. There he met agent Christine
Campbell Thomson (1897-1985). Thomson gave
his manuscript a more attractive title and proceeded to sell it to British and
American publishers. Borneo: The Stealer of Hearts was
by Hurst & Blackett in August 1924, and soon afterwards by Houghton Mifflin
of Boston. Following Thomson’s
recommendation that he write about what he knew, Cook published a number of
stories set in London Borneo in magazines such The Blue Magazine, Hutchinson’s Adventure-Story Magazine, Hutchinson’s Mystery-Story Magazine, and The Novel Magazine.
Oscar Cook and Christine Campbell Thomson were married in
on 30 September
1924. Around this time, for about a year, Cook worked as the editor of two
magazines, Hutchinson’s Mystery-Story
Magazine and Hutchinson’s
Adventure-Story Magazine. In 1925
Cook acquired a controlling interest in the publishing firm Selwyn & Blount
Limited. His wife devised and edited for the firm the very successful “Not at
Night” series of horror anthologies, the first of which, titled “Not at Night,”
appeared in October 1925. Less
successful on the Selwyn & Blount list were Cook’s own novel The Seventh Wave, published in September
1926, and a reprint of his memoir, Borneo:
The Stealer of Hearts, in August 1927. Cook tried his hand at playwriting,
and a version in three acts of The
Seventh Wave was performed in 1927. London
Selwyn & Blount also published his wife’s novel, His Excellency, in September 1927. The “Not at Night” series meanwhile had grown by two further volumes, More Not at Night in September 1926 and You’ll Need a Night Light in September 1927, but the success of this series was not enough to keep the firm alive. In 1928 Selwyn & Blount was acquired by
which continued the profitable “Not at Night” series, making in total twelve
volumes, the final being the Not at Night
Omnibus (1937). Thomson continued to
edit the series, including tales of her own (under the pseudonym Flavia
Richardson) as well as stories by her husband. Hutchinson
In 1928 Cook and Thomson’s only child was born, a son Gervis Hugh Frere Cook, who in adulthood became a navy officer and hyphenated his surname as Frere-Cook. In the family tradition, Gervis Frere-Cook edited a few books in the 1960s and early 1970s, including The Decorative Arts of the Mariner (1966) and The Decorative Arts of the Christian Church (1972), before his early death in 1974.
Beginning in 1925, Thomson sold American serial rights for four of Cook’s stories to Weird Tales magazine, and these stories were mostly reprints (sometimes under new titles) of tales which had previously appeared in
. (One Weird
Tales story which appears in various indices as by Oscar Cook is actually
bylined “Cargray Cook” and is mistakenly included with those by Oscar Cook.
This story, titled “On the Highway,” appeared in the January 1925 issue.) The story which appeared under the title “The
Sacred Jars” in Weird Tales in March
1927, and which appeared in England
as “When Glister Walked,” is actually an expansion of an episode which had
appeared in chapter six of his memoir.
Cook’s best stories are those which are highlighted by the local color
of England Borneo.
His most famous story is probably “Boomerang,” which was effectively
adapted by Rod Serling for a second season episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, where it was retitled “The
Caterpillar.” The episode was broadcast on 1 March 1972.
Cook and Thomson’s marriage broke up in 1937, and Oscar Cook died in Kensington at the age of 63 in early 1952.
NB: An earlier version of this entry appeared in my column “Notes on Neglected Fantasists”, Fastitocalon no. 1 (2010).