Not After Nightfall by Basil Copper (1967)

Not After Nightfall by Basil Copper, containing the following stories: “The Spider”, “Camera Obscura”, “The Cave”, “The Grey House”, “Old Mrs. Cartwright”, “Charon”, “The Great Vore”, and “The Janissaries of Emilion” (Collected 1967): Basil Copper, who just died in the past year, was a stand-out British writer of horror and detective stories (primarily the Solar Pons series of Sherlock Holmes pastiches in the latter category) for 50 years.

This is Copper’s first collection, and it contains several stand-outs, though none of the stories moves particularly far into the neo-Lovecraftian cosmic horror he would practice later in his career that would lead to such indispensable works as The Great White Space and “Shaft Number 247.” Instead, Copper’s first collection reminds me of a variety of different writers at certain points, though it also establishes Copper’s gift for building suspense and mystery through the patient and increasingly unnerving accumulation of detail.

“The Great Vore” gives us a Holmesian occult investigator, while “Old Mrs. Cartwright” nicely evokes the nasty horror shorts of Saki. The cool Copper tone is already evident, though later stories would seem more of a totality and less suggestive of homage (“Charon”, for example, reads like a British version of a gentle Bradbury fantasy or even a Twilight Zone episode).

“The Great Vore” is tense and detail-packed as it follows Professor Kane’s attempts to thwart the murderous operations of an occult cult in Great Britain some time in the middle of the 20th century. “The Grey House” is the story most reminiscent of LeFanu, while “The Cave” suggests some of Algernon Blackwood’s traveller’s horrors of wandering into dark places in Europe.

“Camera Obscura,” an interesting fantasy of justice, was filmed for the 1960’s TV show Night Gallery. “The Janissaries of Emilion” is reminiscent of some of Lord Dunsany’s and Lovecraft’s dream stories, but it achieves its own nasty bit of unsettling business through the patient accumulation of detail — it’s not ‘dreamy’ but rather very specifically described. Really a very fine first collection of stories. Recommended.

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