The Corpse in the Waxworks (Inspector Bencolin 4) by John Dickson Carr

Chamber of horrors…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Corpse in the WaxworksInspector Bencolin and his friend Jeff Marle take on a case involving a woman who walked into the Musée Augustin waxworks one evening and was never seen alive again. Her body later turned up in the Seine. Before they can discover who killed her, they must find out why she went to the waxworks, and why so many other unlikely people seem to find it a place worth visiting late in the evenings…

This is the fourth in the series about the Mephistophelian Bencolin, head of the Parisian detective force, and his American sidekick Marle. The plots are always intricate versions of the “impossible” crime subgenre for which Carr was apparently famous, and this is just as fiendish as the others. But what makes them stand out most from the crowd is Carr’s ability to create wonderfully macabre settings, steeped in horror and decadence and the gruesomeness of the Grand Guignol.

The idea of being in a waxworks late at night is pretty creepy to begin with, but these waxworks have been made by a master of the art and, in the dim green light of the basement, one could be forgiven for imagining that one or two of them are real. But is it imagination? Is that movement you glimpsed out of the corner of your eye a trick of the light, or…? Carr is brilliant at spooking both poor Jeff and the reader too, and the decadent evil at the heart of the plot seems right at home in this world of shadows and horrors. Yes, the story veers wildly over the credibility line as it does in all of the Bencolin books, but much in the way of Edgar Allen Poe – there is a madness underneath most of the crimes.

John Dickson Carr
John Dickson Carr

Bencolin himself is a bit too over the top to be believable – he is all devilish mystery and almost mystical insight. But Jeff is a great foil who provides the humanity that Bencolin lacks. There are only five books in total in the Bencolin series, I understand. Four of them, including this and the other three the BL has previously re-published, were written early in Carr’s career, and he revisited the characters just once years later – I’m hoping they issue it too sometime for completion’s sake. I love the way he mixes the various horror genres into the standard mystery novel and comes up with something quite unique in my experience. Since I still haven’t read anything else by him I don’t know how they compare to the later work he is better remembered for, but they’ve certainly whetted my appetite to find out. This one is excellent and there’s no need to read them in order so if a creepy night in a waxworks sounds like your kind of thing, go for it!

The book also includes a bonus Bencolin short story, The Murder in Number Four – another impossible crime, this time the murder of a man alone in a carriage of a moving train. Witnesses confirm no one could have gone along the corridor to the carriage without being seen, and yet the deed was done. Obviously this doesn’t have the same intricacy as the novels, but it has the same atmosphere of creepiness and Bencolin is as mysteriously brilliant as ever. An added treat!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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36 thoughts on “The Corpse in the Waxworks (Inspector Bencolin 4) by John Dickson Carr

  1. Ooh, a waxworks! Yes, I can see how that would make for a deliciously creepy setting, FictionFan. And there is something about an ‘impossible’ mystery that invites me to challenge myself, and sometimes that’s just what I’m in the mood to do. Carr was a master of that subgenre, so I’m glad you enjoyed this as much as you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • These have been a great introduction to Carr for me – I love the horror aspects and he can really get that seriously creepy vibe going! I’m looking forward to trying some of the Gideon Fell books soon, to see how his style developed later. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • If it’s not now, it will be at some point, I think. The BL seem to have struggled to get things out internationally during Covid, but now that we’re returning to normality I’m expecting they’ll catch up… 😀

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    • It’s been the horror elements to these Bencolin books that have made them favourites for me, and his plots always have that kind of creepy madness feel about them. Great stuff! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds good, I don’t think I’ve read a story set in a waxwork before, I can see why that would be a potentially sinister setting. I might save this for later in the year. While not religious at all about seasonal reading, there are certain titles and genre which I would be more likely to read at certain times of the year, and this is one of them. I’ll put it on my tentetive late Autumn list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He used the waxworks so well – all Chamber of Horrors and dim lighting and so on. Spooked me good and proper, especially since I find waxworks creepy at the best of times! Yes, I think any of these Bencolin books would be perfect for Hallowe’en reading – the horror elements really are as important as the crime. 😀

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    • Haha, yes! Perfect Hallowe’en reading, really – the horror elements are just as important as the crime. I’ve enjoyed all four, so I hope you get a chance to read the ones on your TBR soon… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, they are quite spooky in parts – he’s brilliant at creating a really creepy, scary atmosphere, but though the murders can be gruesome he doesn’t force all the gory details on the reader. It;s mostly done by suggestion… 😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think the order matters at all with these – there’s no story arc and no real character development as such. Bencolin and Marle are more like Holmes and Watson than contemporary ‘tecs with all their backstories and angst! Enjoy! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A wax museum is such a good mystery/horror setting! There was one I visited as a kid that had a horror chamber, a sort of torture methods through the ages section. I remember going through at the age of 7 with my eyes closed while my brother held my hand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, they can be terrifying, can’t they? There’s something so creepy about the way they just stand there, watching you… 😱 And I must say Carr is brilliant at using these kinds of creepy settings to full effect… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t read any of his Gideon Fell books yet, but The Hollow Man is on my Classics Club list so I should be getting to it soon! The Bencolin books are great – I love the mix of horror and crime. Hope you enjoy them! 😀

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  4. Visiting a waxworks at night sounds ominous. Waxworks are creepy in the daytime, in my opinion.
    The short story sounded like an unexpected treat. Hope you come across the other books in the Bencolin set.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, I think waxworks are incredibly creepy at the best of times too, and Carr really knows how to use that creepiness to full effect! 😀 I’ve enjoyed all of the Bencolin books so far – just one left, and it seems to have been written much later.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, I find waxworks really creepy too, and Carr knows how to use that to full effect! 😱 All the Bencolin books have been brilliant and they all have that wonderful mix of horror and crime – great stuff!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I enjoyed the one book by this author that I have read (The Emperor’s Snuff-Box). So I don’t know why I haven’t read more of his books. I have an old Dell paperback copy of this one. I don’t like horror and creepiness though.

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    • I’m looking forward to reading some of his non-Bencolin books soon to see how different they are in style. All the Bencolin ones have a horror fell to them, but not supernatural – it’s all to do with human evil and madness.

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  6. I love Edgar Allen Poe so this definitely piqued my interest. And, I also love the fact that a short story is included at the end-we hardly ever get these little ‘bonuses’ in modern day books do we?

    Liked by 1 person

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