Born in Chester, England, Hugh B. Cave moved during his childhood with his family to Boston, Massachusetts, following the outbreak of World War I. His first name was in honor of Hugh Walpole, a favorite author of his mother, a nurse, whohad once known Rudyard Kipling.
Cave attended Brookline High School. After graduating, Cave attended Boston University on a scholarship but had to leave when his father was severely injured. He worked initially for a vanity press, the only regular job he would ever have. He quit this position at age 20 to write for a living.
From 1932 until his death in 1997, Cave corresponded extensively with fellow pulp writer Carl Richard Jacobi. Selections of this correspondence can be found in Cave's memoir Magazines I Remember. Relations with his fellow pulp writers were not always so cordial. In the 1930s, Cave lived in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, but he never met H.P. Lovecraft, who lived in nearby Providence. The two engaged in a heated exchange of correspondence (non-extant) regarding the ethics and aesthetics of writing for the pulps.
During World War II Cave travelled as a reporter around the Pacific and in Southeast Asia. Following the war he moved to the Caribbean, spending five years in Haiti, after which he rebuilt and managed a successful coffee plantation in Jamaica. He returned to the United States in the early 1970s after the Jamaican government reclaimed his plantation.
Hugh Cave was twice married, first to Margaret Long in a union that produced two sons before the couple began living apart, and Peggy (or Peggie) Thompson, who died in 2001. Cave was 93 when he died in Vero Beach, Florida, in 2004. His remains were cremated.
Sources differ as to when Cave sold his first story: some say it was while he still attended Brookline High School, others cite "Island Ordeal", written at age 19 in 1929 while still working for the vanity press..
In his early career he contributed to such pulp magazines as Astounding, Black Mask, and Weird Tales. By his own estimate, in the 1930s alone, he published roughly 800 short stories in nearly 100 periodicals under a number of pseudonyms. Of particular interest during this time was his series featuring an independent gentleman of courageous action and questionable morals called simply The Eel. These adventures appeared in the late 1930s and early 40s under the pen name Justin Case. Cave was also one of the most successful contributors to the weird menace or "shudder pulps" of the 1930s.
In 1943, drawing on his experience as a war reporter, he authored one of his most highly regarded works, Long Were the Nights, telling of the first PT boats at Guadalcanal. He also wrote a number of other books on the war in the Pacific during this period.
During his post-war sojourn in Haiti, he became so familiar with the religion of Voodoo that he published Haiti: High Road to Adventure, a nonfiction work critically acclaimed as the "best report on voodoo in English." His Caribbean experiences led to his best-selling Voodoo-themed novel, The Cross On The Drum (1959), an interracial story in which a white Christian missionary falls in love with a black Voodoo priest's sister.
During this midpoint in his career Cave advanced his writing to the "slick" magazines, including Collier's, Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, and the Saturday Evening Post. It was in this latter publication, in 1959, that "The Mission," his most popular short story, appeared...subsequently issued in hardcover by Doubleday, reprinted in textbooks, and translated into a number of languages.
But his career took a dip in the early 1970s. According to The Guardian, with the golden era of pulp fiction now in the past, Cave's "only regular market was writing romance for women's magazines." He was rediscovered, however, by Karl Edward Wagner, who published Murgunstrumm and Others, a horror story collection that won Cave the 1978 World Fantasy Award. Other collections followed and Cave also published new horror fiction.
His later career included the publication in the late 1970s and early 1980s of four successful fantasy novels: Legion of the Dead (1979), The Nebulon Horror (1980), The Evil (1981), and Shades of Evil (1982). Two other notable late works are Lucifer's Eye (1991) and The Mountains of Madness (2004). Moreover, Cave took naturally to the Internet, championing the e-book to such an extent that electronic versions of his stories can readily be purchased online.
Over his entire career he wrote more than 1,000 short stories in nearly all genres (though he is best remembered for his horror and crime pieces), approximately forty novels, and a notable body of nonfiction. He received the Phoenix Award as well as lifetime achievement awards from the International Horror Guild, the Horror Writers Association, and the World Fantasy Convention.