Paris and the bodies of two dead girls are troubling Henri Bencolin. One is found floating in the Seine, the second in the Wax Museum, lying in the arms of “The Satyr Of The Seine”. All indications point to “The Club Of The Silver Key”, an exclusive… well, brothel where all of the customers wear masks.
As Bencolin crosses swords with the owner of the club, Jeff Marle finds himself going undercover at the club. But are the sleuths looking in the right place for the murderer or is Marle heading into deeper danger? You know, I’m sure I’ve written this introduction before…
If you’re having a sense of déjà vu here, I reviewed this book about eighteen months ago. This is the fourth Henri Bencolin book by John Dickson Carr, published before his more famous sleuths, Gideon Fell and Sir Henry Merrivale, appeared on the scene. As I said in my previous review, this is still Carr finding his feet, indulging in atmosphere and perhaps falling a little short on some of the more standard elements of the detective story, notably the clueing, something Carr would later develop very well. I neglected to mention the first time round, though, the excellent finale. Carr crafts a superb confrontation between Bencolin and the villain of the piece and it really hits home.
I’ve decided to mention this again as it has been just re-released by the British Library as part of the Crime Classics series, and it includes, as do the other Bencolin releases, a rare short story, The Murder In Number Four.
The Murder In Number Four consists of an impossible strangling in a train compartment. There are eight separate compartments on the train, every occupant seeing a ghostly face in the glass of the door leading to the corridor – despite witnesses in the corridor seeing no one – and compartment four, bolted on the inside, contains a dead body.
It demonstrates Carr’s strengths and weaknesses well. The first page is full on atmosphere and I imagine that it could discourage some readers, but I do encourage you to push on past the somewhat overblown descriptions of Death stalking the haunted train. The mystery takes an interesting shift in the middle of the tale that makes it feel much longer than its page count.
I really enjoyed this addition to the reprint. Yes, there is a Wire Cage-ness about the victim, but it’s a well-hidden murderer, something that I think Carr did well, and he manages to make the impossibilities just about make sense, despite them seeming to be… well, impossible. I can see how someone could see the face at the window to be a cheat, but I found it rather clever.
So, a novel with some strong elements, showing a writer on the verge of greatness, and a very effective short story. Definitely worth your time.
The Corpse In The Waxworks is out now from the British Library Crime Classics range, although Amazon seems to be out of stock until late February. Time to contact your local bookshop!