The Waxwork Corpse

Written by Simon Michael
Review by K. M. Sandrick

A woman’s body, covered in plastic sheeting and tightly bound with ropes and coaxial cables, is caught on the edges of Tiffen’s Rock in Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. Her eyes are open but they almost melt into her nose; her mouth is blurred, her face mimicking a waxwork figure that has been exposed to a flame. She is the wife of Lord Justice Sir Anthony Steele, QC, and has been missing for 13 years. When Steele is arrested for her murder, barrister Charles Holborne is pressed into service as his prosecutor.

The Waxwork Corpse is the fifth in the Charles Holborne series of legal thrillers. Set in 1965, the novel continues to develop the dual nature of the main character. Having forsaken his name, upbringing, and Jewish heritage as Charlie Horowitz, Holborne has alienated members of his family, particularly his mother, and tried to hide his sometimes violent and dodgy past. In this edition he confronts his past decisions and actions, reexamining his relationships with his parents and their faith and keeping one step ahead of a blackmailer.

The case against Steele is based on an actual prosecution for murder in the Old Bailey in the 1970s. The collection of evidence is straightforward; witness statements, coroner and police reports are brisk and matter-of-fact; the testimony at court is layered, progressive, and often emotional. However, the facts are easy to plumb. Instead of stringing the reader along, the plot telegraphs Holborne’s discoveries to the point that the reader is surprised he hadn’t seen them sooner. But the novel is less of a thriller and more of a journey of understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of kinship. Readers will look for Holborne’s next moves.