Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

This is hardly a new book, being originally self-published in 1886, but it is a really important book in the history of crime fiction. Firstly, it was the best selling crime novel of the nineteenth century - outstripping both Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins. It actually pre-dates Doyle's A Study in Scarlet by one year, and it was an overnight sensation when originally published, selling around 750,000 copies during Hume's lifetime, nearly half of those copies within the first six months of re-publication in London in 1887. By the end of 1886 a total of 20,000 copies had been printed in Melbourne alone - where the population was then less than half a million. Just about every literate adult in Melbourne therefore must have read the book.

The story itself revolves around the death of a, then, unknown man in a Hansom Cab late on a Melbourne night. The victim and an unknown man hail a hansom cab and ask to be taken to St Kilda. The unknown man changes his mind and walks away only to return a few moments later, deciding to take the same trip as the victim. Half-way through the journey the unknown man asks the cabbie to stop, gets out and heads back towards the city. By St Kilda Junction the cabbie, on trying to establish a final address to attend, discovers the dead body of the victim in the back of his cab.

The police investigation firstly must concentrate on trying to identify the victim, and ultimately results in the arrest and charging of a gentlemen who appears to have been a rival for the hand of the daughter of a wealthy local family. But in the tradition of all good crime fiction there is a twist and things are not what they immediately seem.

This is a good old fashioned detecting story - obviously there was no help from advanced forensics in 1886, and the size and nature of a colonial town adds layers and differences to the book from anything that would be written today. All in all, this is still a good book, a good solid story and a highly entertaining and engaging read. 

Year of Publication

Fergus Hume's sensational novel The Mystery of a Hansom Cab is Australia's original blockbuster and international best-selling crime novel.

First published in 1886, it was an overnight sensation, selling hundreds of thousands of copies around the world and being translated into eleven languages. Over a century later, Hansom Cab has lost none of its page-turning power.

Set in the charming and deadly streets of Melbourne, this vivid and brilliantly plotted murder thriller tells the story of a crime committed by an unknown assassin.

With its panoramic depiction of a bustling yet uneasy city, Hansom Cab has a central place in Australian literary history and, more importantly, it remains highly readable. This edition reproduces for the first time the text of the original Australian edition.

Karen Chisholm
Friday, September 14, 2007

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