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Book Review: Blockbuster! by Lucy Sussex

books we like non fiction

Blockbuster!In 1886 - a year before A Study in Scarlet launched the fictional career of Sherlock Holmes - Fergus Hume's The Mystery of the Hansom Cab was published. From its small beginnings as a 'schilling shocker', this crime novel set in Marvellous Melbourne became an international phenomenon, selling half a million copies.

While Hume did not invent characters as enduring as Holmes and Watson, the publication of Hansom Cab and its subsequent unheard-of success made the future success of the Holmes stories (which might otherwise have started and ended with the Beeton’s Christmas Annual) and the whole detective genre a viable – and very profitable – publishing proposition.

Hume's own story has many parallels with Arthur Conan Doyle, but more than that, his story, the story of the writing and publication of Hansom Cab, and the lives of most of the people associated with it, are a riveting tale of love, trust, betrayal, chance, bad timing, ego and even real-life crime.

The Mystery of a Hansom CabAustralian historian and crime writer, Lucy Sussex, breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book. She explores Hume, his contemporaries and Hansom Cab’s history in paper and celluloid with warmth and attention to human detail. One of her great achievements as a book-biographer is to bring alive the decades in which Hume and the book existed, bringing deeper understanding to both through their historical and social context. Sussex mines rich veins of Victorian attitudes to fiction, the theatre, Colonials, homosexuality and class divides for the fullest picture.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab wasn’t just the first book to become a true international blockbuster. It completely altered the literary playing field, paving the way for the future of crime writing.

To quote:

Above all, the work consolidated detective fiction as a publishing genre, one with a mass readership of avid fans. Vizetelly with Gaboriau, Anna Katherine Green and others had shown that the market existed for tales of crime, but it took the blockbusting success of Hansom Cab, achieved by Trischler’s brilliant marketing, to prove how lucrative crime fiction could be. Publishers took note and, over a century later, detective fiction is still a market leader.

If you're a passionate reader of crime fiction, Blockbuster! will give you a solid, erudite, accessible and often affectionate grounding into the history of crime fiction, the parallel careers of Hume and Doyle, an introduction to their forerunners, and a rich insight into the world's first publishing phenomenon.

Buy Blockbuster! By Lucy Sussex

Buy The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume

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