Young journalist Sonia Thompson arrives at the dreary little town of Riverpool on a raw November day to work on the local paper. The first sight she visits is the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery, inhabited by shabby figures of Victorian celebrities and historical persons. It's not a top notch attraction. In fact, it's gone downhill to the point where, as the author puts it, it has sunk to be a place of assignation—of stolen meetings and illicit love. And this despite its sinister reputation after more than one death on the premises, starting with the suicide of the speculative builder who erected it. He hanged himself in the Hall of Horrors.
Sonia has hardly been in town five minutes before she receives a call at ten past three in the morning from an woman unknown to her who claims to be doomed. As time passes suggestive cross-currents and hints begin to surface, reinforcing Sonia's conviction that more than one resident harbours a secret. Then another body is found in the waxworks...
Has Lilith, Doctor Nile's much younger wife, been as immoral as she is painted? Is flirtatious alderman and future mayor William Cuttle, openly philandering with more than one woman, truthful when he insists he has always been faithful to his wife? Could Dame Rumour be correct in declaring Regina Yates, the alderman's secretary, intends to be the second Mrs. Cuttle one way or another? Is snobbishness the reason why local history teacher Mary Munro, so obviously desperately lonely, rejects all friendly overtures? Why is timid Edith Miller so devoted to the wax figure of Mary of Scotland?
In an ever tensely wound plot the waxworks plays a central role, a spider looming ever larger at the centre of a web whose threads reach far and wide in surprising ways.
My verdict: A short but terrific novel. The wonderfully written chapter in which Sonia spends a night in the Riverpool Waxwork Gallery to gather material for her series on the waxworks will give many readers the creeping heeby-jeebies. I particularly liked the way the Gallery is revealed to be connected to a matter ultimately tying in an unexpected yet logical way to an outbreak of seemingly unconnected crimes, while the denouement sports a terrific and yet fairly clued sting in its tale.
Etext: Wax by Ethel Lina White