The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, published in 1886, was the first novel by Fergus Hume. It begins with a sensational murder, as the body of a dead man is discovered in a hansom cab by the driver. Set in Melbourne, Australia, it presents an engaging story of crime and detection, with several unexpected twists and turns. It also gives a clear and interesting portrait of the colonial city at the peak of its 19th Century prosperity following a gold rush, a time when it was known as “Marvellous Melbourne.” The novel contrasts the comfortable lives of the rich and well-connected of the colony with the misery of those living in the noisome slums in the back-streets of the city.
The novel, originally published in serial form in a local newspaper, achieved some initial local success when it was first released in book form, but the author then sold the rights to a British company.
After warm initial reviews in England The Mystery of a Hansom Cab became not merely a best-seller but what today we would call a “blockbuster” in the United Kingdom, its English-speaking colonies and the United States. It was the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian era, and apparently was part of the inspiration for Conan Doyle to begin writing his Sherlock Holmes stories.
Fergus Hume eventually left Australia and returned to England. Though little-known today, after the success of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Hume went on to write more than a hundred additional novels in the crime genre, as well as several plays.
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