Lucy Sussex on the Australian Genesis of Crime Fiction
Here’s a whodunnit: who wrote the biggest and fastest-selling detective novel of the 1800s, a defining work of crime fiction and Australia’s first literary blockbuster?
Before Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, there was Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Published in Melbourne in 1886, it sold out almost instantly – and its offering of a ‘startling and realistic story of Melbourne social life’ became a runaway phenomenon at home and abroad.
Yet Hume – an aspiring playwright who wrote the novel hoping to attract the attention of theatre managers – sold the book’s copyright for a pittance, missing out on a potential fortune.
In this Midday Shot, author Lucy Sussex shares the engrossing tale of Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab – equally colourful portraits of Melbourne’s blossoming cultural life in the late 1800s, as presented in her rigorously researched book Blockbuster!.
Lucy Sussex was born in New Zealand, and her writerly interests include science fiction, women’s writing, Australiana, crime fiction and horror. Her fiction has appeared widely, and been translated into various languages, including Polish and Japanese. She has edited four anthologies, including She’s Fantastical (1995), which was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award.