MADAME MIDAS - Fergus Hume
Growing up around Ballarat not quite as long ago as MADAME MIDAS is set, it was really amazing to see how much of the layout of the city remains and how many of the locations are easily identifiable. Which probably meant that I ended up reading this book paying a lot more attention to the setting than I did to the plot.
That's not to say that MADAME MIDAS doesn't have a plot that isn't bad, what with a caddish Frenchman trying to have their way with the charming, intelligent and very wealthy Madame Midas. Given that it was first published in 1888, it's probably no surprise that for all her charm, brains and money somehow Madame Midas is still a woman that seems to rely a lot on the protection of well meaning men around her. When she's not attracting ne'er-do-well husbands and dodgy bookkeepers. But leeway needs to be given as this is very much a book of it's time, even though for a central character, somehow Madame Midas is strangely incidental, slightly off-key perhaps.
But as I said, a lot of the attraction of this book is Goldfields Victoria, Ballarat in particular. Hume is writing about a time in Victoria which was pivotal in the formation of our current lifestyle, and he provides some fascinating glimpses into both the hardships and the luxuries of those early days of white settlement. I won't pretend that I wasn't feeling very inadequate at times as I realised the distances, and not inconsequential hills, many of the characters walked up and down in surprising time, and frequency. I was halfway through reading the book when I found myself heading up Lydiard Street towards Black Hill at roughly the same time of year as the book is set, and I was astonished at how rapidly women, in particular - in all that 1880's regalia - toiled up and down the hill in the middle of summer. At that time of the year, even at a much younger age, I struggle to make it from Sturt Street to Seymour Street, let alone all the way up to Black Hill.
Seriously though, it's a privilege to be able to read something from that time that's extremely accessible, enlightening and still entertaining.
When the suave French convict Gaston Vandeloup escapes to the goldfields of Ballarat, he is destined to meet the remarkable Madame Midas who has made her fortune in Ballarat's fabulous mines.
But her wealth makes her prey to deceit and crime, destined to end in murder!
Madame Midas is the thrilling companion-piece to Fergus Hume's phenomenally successful The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.