Basil Copper was a British author born in 1924. He worked as a journalist and newspaper editor before becoming a full time writer in 1970, penning several novels featuring the August Derleth super-sleuth, Solar Pons, many Mike Faraday detective novels, and of particular interest here, a slew of horror short stories and novels. His love for collecting classic films was evidenced by his massive personal collection, which likely served as inspiration for a couple of the stories we’ll be looking at today in “Amber Print” and “Better Dead”. Basil died in 2013.
I very much enjoyed these stories by Basil Copper and definitely look forward to reading more in the future. Of these stories, my favorites were “Camera Obscura”, “The Grey House”, “The House by the Tarn”, “Wish You Were Here” and “Better Dead”.
- “The Spider” (1964) – A traveling salesmen in France stops at a quaint inn for the night on his way back from a successful trip. Something about the `innkeeper’s manner makes him uneasy, but he stays none-the-less. He’s further disturbed by the presence of several spiders that come inside from the surrounding forest. Still, he makes the unfortunate decision to stay.
- “Camera Obscura” (1965) – A merciless moneylender goes to the large house of an eccentric, old man to remind him he needs to pay the lender what he owes in a few days or be forced to sell off some of his expensive antiques to settle it. The old man seems uninterested in the conversation but instead wants to show him a device he has called a Camera Obscura which displays a live image of the surrounding town reflected from high overhead. He implores the moneylender to relinquish pursuing the eviction of another of his debtors which would cast them out onto the street if he doesn’t. When he refuses, he finds himself in a dire situation. This creepy short story was faithfully adapted in a segment of the television series Rod Serling’s The Night Gallery (Season 2, episode #12).
- “The Grey House” (1967) – A successful thriller writer purchases an old, deserted estate house in Burgandy, France. While the writer is overjoyed, his wife feels uneasy there but stays anyway while he writes. A large, wall painting is uncovered during the extensive reconstruction. It depicts a man wearing clothes from a long bygone era dragging a young woman by her hair. The man in the painting turns out to have been a former lord of the manor with a treaturous history. The new lady of the house begins to notice a massive, malevolent cat with yellow eyes lurking in the orchards below the house. It often glares and makes terrible noises at her. More ominous discoveries are made around and about the house as the tale continues. This story kept me hooked throughout.
- “The Janissaries of Emilion” (1967) – This novelette is told by a friend of a brilliant scientist who began experiencing a series of interconnected dreams where he washes up ashore of a beach during what he somehow knows to be of ancient times. Each time the dream finds him moved a little closer inland toward a beautiful city in the distance which he also inexplicably knows is called Emilion. Although he doesn’t know her name, he knows a woman lives there which is his lover and that he needs to go to her. The first time he wakes from the dream, he’s damp with seawater and has sand all over his skin. As the dreams draw him nearer to the city, a horde of warriors come into view between him and the city calling themselves The Janissaries of Emilion. He believes if they reach him in the dream, they’ll kill him both there and in the real world.
- “Amber Print” (1969) – A collector of rare old films shows his friend a unique, amber print of the silent film The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari that contains scenes no one has ever seen before. Even more remarkable is the fact that the movie seems to be slightly altered with each new viewing. Its unsettling effect proves far more dangerous than the collector could possibly have imagined.
- “Out of the Fog” (1970) – Set in Victorian England, a young, female doctor insists on learning the true reason her beloved chose to kill himself during a fog-shrouded night. There’s a nice twist at the end of this tale which paints the story in an entirely different light.
- “The House By The Tarn” (1971) – A writer of occult tales chooses to walk to the ruins of a house after a friend tells him about its deadly, haunted history. Four Winds House was built by a wealthy silk merchant for his family years ago. Hidden deep amongst the trees and high hills at the end of a long gravel road, all the windows and floors have fallen away. The silk merchant was encouraged to drain the lake after the lower areas became infested with strange purple mold that gave off a hideous stench. He elected not to do so and soon afterward a series of horrible deaths wiped out the entire family. Nearly every person who has entered the house since then has suffered a terrible demise as well. The writer believes he’s up to the task of facing whatever evil resides in the place, so he ventures forth and enters. This is a strong haunted house short story with great descriptions, atmosphere and backstory.
- “Wish You Were Here” (1992) – This novella follows a successful writer who’s working on repairs to the ancient Hoddesden Hall he recently inherited from a reclusive aunt he only met once in his youth. To his dismay, he begins receiving musty smelling, Victorian era postcards in the mail with obscured postmarks and a hint of women’s perfume to them. Each card from this mysterious sender is from a European destination that grows steadily nearer to him saying she’ll be there by Christmas. While delving into this mystery, he discovers that the aunt from which he inherited the place disappeared and has never been found, and the cousin who took possession of it before him fell down an open well and drowned. The increasing nearness and frequency of these postcards unsettles his sanity as Christmas approaches. Although long, this is an intriguing Christmas horror/mystery with a great finale.
- “Better Dead” (1994) – A cheating wife who’s growing increasingly more irritated by her husband’s obsession with collecting and watching classic films all the time, makes a terrifying discovery one night when she peeks in on his viewing room while The Bride of Frankenstein is playing.
- “There Lies The Danger…” (2002) – An aged, successful author seeks out a scientist named Voss who’s reportedly perfected a method to rejuvenate vitality in others, returning them to the health of their youth while staving off the approach of death.
Here is a collection of some Basi Copper stories on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Mist-Shadow-Collected-Macabre-ebook/dp/B07B6B6MY2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1526866579&sr=8-2&keywords=Basil+copper
Article by Matt Cowan