The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume

‘The best-selling crime novel of the nineteenth century.’


‘Truth is said to be stranger than fiction, and certainly the extraordinary murder which took place in Melbourne on Thursday night, or rather Friday morning, goes a long way towards verifying this saying.’

Melbourne, 18–.  An unknown man is found dead in a hansom cab late one night.  How did he die? Earlier, this man and another unknown man had hailed a hansom cab and had asked to be taken to St Kilda.  The unknown man changed his mind and walked away.  Then the man appeared to change his mind again, and got into the hansom cab.  Part way through the journey he asks the cab driver to stop, gets out, and heads back to the city.  A little further on, the cab driver, trying to establish exactly which address he is to attend, discovers the dead body of the man in the back of his cab.

The police first need to identify the victim.  Once they do, they then move quite quickly to arrest and charge a man with his murder.  But do they have the right man?  Eventually, gentle reader, after a number of twists and turns, the truth will be ascertained.

And what interesting twists and turns they prove to be.  The novel is peopled with interesting characters, including the dreadful Mother Guttersnipe, and the busy Mrs Sampson.  We have a number of potential heroes and actual villains, and just when I thought I’d worked it out, yet another possibility appeared.  Plenty of old-fashioned detecting here.

This novel was self-published in 1886, and has not been out of print since.  It predates Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘A Study in Scarlet’ by one year, and was an overnight sensation when it was originally published.  Although some aspects are dated, this novel is still well worth reading today.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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