Well, I’m afraid I’m continuing with the comfort reading here on the Ramblings… I’ve managed to tear myself away from the joys of George Smiley for a while, and instead launched myself merrily into another British Library Crime Classic. Well, you can’t go wrong with them, can you? They’ve been publishing the John Dickson Carr “Bencolin” titles at a rate of knots, and this is the fourth one so far out of the five novels (you can read about the others here, here and here). “The Corpse in the Waxworks” is subtitled “A Paris Mystery” and was first published in 1932; it’s also been published as “The Waxworks Murder”, and this volume also includes the final Bencolin short short, “The Murder in Number Four” from 1928.

And once again we’re back in slightly macabre, melodramatic locked-room mystery territory! The action is centred around the Musee Augustin Waxworks in Paris, and as the story opens Mlle Duchene, a young society woman, has been found dead in the Seine. She was last seen the night before, heading into the Gallery of Horrors at the waxworks; and shortly afterwards another young woman, a friend of Odette Duchene, is found brutally murdered in the waxworks itself. Odette’s fiance is distraught; her friend Claudine Martel’s parents likewise; and Bencolin begins to investigate. He’s joined by his usual sidekick, the young American Jeff Marle, who is also our narrator; and soon the men begin to suspect there is much more to this affair than simple nasty murder.

As in previous books, Bencolin is pitted against an old adversary; in this case, one Etienne Galant, a grotesque and arrogant man who owes part of his unpleasant appearance to a previous run-in with Bencolin. Galant declares he has no connection with any murders, and indeed has a perfect alibi for the time concerned (part of which includes being seen by Bencolin and Marle in a club!) However, behind the seemingly civilised surface of Paris there is the presence of Club of Coloured Masks where the demi-monde spend much of their time, and innocents can easily be lured to depravity. Does Galant have any connection with the club (which, conveniently, is right next to the waxworks)? How did the girls die, and why? Does their other female friend, Gina Prevost, have anything to do with the mystery? And is Mlle Augustin, daughter of the waxworks’ owner, as innocent as she seems? It will take all of Bencolin’s intelligence and Marle’s reckless courage to find out the solution!

British Library Crime Classics are the perfect escapist reading right now, and the Bencolin mysteries are particularly satisfying. As I’ve mentioned before, Carr’s prose and storytelling is wonderfully over-the-top, and he always manages to mix in so many spooky elements that I sometimes get a bit twitchy reading his books at night! There are plenty of creepy bits in this one, and the gruesome waxworks, with their rumours of moving figures in the dark, add to that aspect of the story. There are plenty of impossible crime elements, with locked doors, no exits and obscure motives. There’s also often a sense of real peril; Carr is very good at creating threatening villains and dangerous situations where we really fear for our protagonists’ safety. Jeff Marle, in particular, often seems to be setting himself up for a fall, and has many a narrow escape by the skin of his teeth. As for the mystery and its solution, well that again was very satisfying. I was miles away from knowing who was the guilty party, although once I knew the answer it was of course completely clear and completely logical! 😀

It was very hot in here, though electric fans tore blotches and rifts in the smoke. A blue spotlight played over the tangled shadows of dancers in darkness; it made ghastly a rouged face which appeared, dipped, an then was swallowed by the heaving mass. Moving in rhythm with a long-drawn bray and thud, the orchestra pounded slowly through a tango – that music which rips the bowels from a concertina and then sinks to whisper of brass. Another brassy cry of horns, another rise, stamp, and fall, and the murmuring dancers swished in time, the shadows reeling on the blue-lit walls

One thing I particularly love about JDC’s Bencolin books are the strong sense of place you get. The last I read was set in London, and he captured the feel of that city brilliantly. Here, Paris comes alive most vividly, with its grand boulevards and seedy backstreets. In a way reading these books is a form of travel in time *and* place – which is something I’m much in need of at the moment. His descriptive passages are wonderful, and I’m rather sorry there’s only one more Bencolin title left to read – which I do hope the BL will bring out soon to complete the set!

Carr wrote four earlier short stories featuring Bencolin, and these have been included in the BL re-releases; so the Bencolin collector can hopefully amass the full collection! The story included here “The Murder in Number Four”, is set aboard a train travelling to Paris, and involves smugglers, murder and Sir John Landervorne, Bencolin’s old friend and colleague. This is a very ingenious locked-room mystery, with an unexpected solution – one which is perhaps slightly unfair, as I don’t think the reader could be expected to get it! Enjoyable, nevertheless!

So “Corpse…” was another satisfying and very distracting read. I don’t quite know how I would have managed during lockdown without the comfort reading and escapism of GA crime, and the BL books have been a real lifeline. The quality continues to stay high, and fingers crossed for the final Bencolin book arriving soon! 😀