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The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Paperback – April 11, 2013
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The characters have the richness typical of the best Victorian novels. And society itself is an interesting character - frivolous, scandal loving and fickle. There are noble characters for us to admire, dissipated characters for us to despise, quirky detectives, a good old-fashioned lawyer of sterling character, and humorous characters with Dickinsonian eccentricities of speech and appearance.
Ferguson Hume grew up in Australia and worked as a clerk in a law office in Melbourne, but had literary aspirations. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was self-published, but eventually became the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian age. Arthur Conan Doyle was influenced by it, yet he put it down as "a slight tale." Perhaps he was a bit jealous, because this is an utterly engaging mystery, full of great gaslight atmosphere and replete with romance.
If you're reading the earliest classics of detective fiction, as I am, you won't want to miss this one. There are many editions around, but this one from Resurrected Press is nicely produced and very readable.
Late one night on a lonely street in Melbourne, the driver of a Hansom cab (a horse-drawn, two-wheeled, covered carriage) discovers that his inebriated passenger is dead, having been poisoned with a chloroform-soaked handkerchief. All evidence points to Brian Fitzgerald, "a tall, handsome, fair-haired young man hailing from Ireland". To protect the reputation of a young woman, Fitzgerald refuses to disclose details of his whereabouts at the time of the murder.
In his short introduction Fergus Hume reveals that he carefully patterned his story after the then popular detective stories by Gaboriau. Furthermore, Hume repeatedly visited some of Melbourne's worst slums to find realistic characters for his story, like his memorable Mother Guttersnipe. Hume had hoped to receive some local attention for his first novel; he had no expectation of creating an international best seller.
Dover Publications should be commended for reprinting hard-to find, early mystery and detective stories like The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1893). Dover published this reprint in 1982.
Parts of the book remind me of Dickens but parts also remind me of the hard-boiled detective fiction of the 1930's and 40`s. The novel is at one and the same time vintage Victoriana literature and innovative crime fiction. Although, as I said by today`s standards Hume probably could have done better with character development and with more realistic dialogue, it is still easy to see why The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was one of the best selling novels of its time. I`m not ashamed to admit that I couldn`t figure out the plot until the very end and I`m grateful to Resurrected Press for bringing this work back to life in digital e-book form.
Good read for lovers of detective and historical fiction alike!
Mr. Hume's narrative harks back to the sprawling novels of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. The story has a stunning opening-- a species of a locked room mystery. A cab driver stops to take on a fare, two men-- one of whom is the worse for the drink. One of his fares leaves him. When the cabbie reaches the second one's location, he discovers that the second man has been murdered. Who else could murdered him than the first man-- and why? However, after that things begin to drag.
There's a large cast of characters, some of whom make an appearance, play their assigned roles, then are seen no more. His characterization is cardboard-- the young upper class man out from England (who makes his fortune by honest, hard labor but who is so self sacrificing that he would go to the gallows rather than betray a trust) is a cliche of romantic literature of the period. That's not to say that there are not some good moments. When one of the two detectives in this case picks up a yellow backed* edition of a book by Zola in the murdered man's room that tells us all we needed to know about the depraved nature of the deceased.
Clues are dropped like lead anvils. There's courtroom drama, a frantic search for the missing witness who can save a man from the gallows, deathbed confessions and gallant heroics.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If you enjoy the spirit of the 19th century this is a great book to read. It doesn't have the sophisticated character development of a modern writer but gives insight into the... Read morePublished 5 days ago by Bill Robinson
I can fully understand how this marvelous murder mystery, Fergus Hume first, was such a huge success! Read morePublished 1 month ago by phillip
Enjoyed a trip down the era in the past which I could relate to.Published 2 months ago by Stephen Bower
For a mystery written so long ago, this one held my attention. NO idea who was the culprit until right at the end. Will look for additional books by this author.Published 3 months ago by Texas Gal
I like the story enough to keep reading. However, I cannot say that it is particularly interesting. I read. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Jazzydivagrrl
In the spirit of Conan Doyle but a little too lengthy. Unnecessary "flower y" dialogue at times. Still a nice read and very good twist.Published 3 months ago by HMJ