The Booksnob’s Blog

Books… the best, worst, & weirdest…

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Mystery of a Hansom Cab

This is one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, finally stumbling across it in a second-hand bookshop recently, although I’m pleased to note that our library service also has both the book and the audio book.  It is the original blockbuster Antipodean crime fiction, set in Melbourne, and is still in print more than 120 years later.

Ironically, author Fergus Hume (1859-1932) had been unable to find a publisher to start with, as in his own words, “everyone to whom I offered it refused to look at the manuscript on the ground that no Colonial could write anything worth reading”.  He ended up having to self-publish, and to his astonishment The Mystery of a Hansom Cab sold 5000 copies within its first three weeks, with a total of 20,000 copies in print by the end of the first year of publication (1886). The book also had massive sales in Britain, but  Hume had unwisely already sold his copyright for the meager sum of £50.  Hume only stayed in Australia for three short years, returning to England in 1888 and going on to a highly successful writing career.

I read the whole book in one sitting, very much enjoying Hume’s writing style and the dialogue of some of his racier characters. The story is liberally sprinkled with red herrings and is a real page-turner, and its evocation of social life in the colony in the late 1800s is quite fascinating.

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January 14, 2008 - Posted by | Australiana, Fiction | , ,

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