Monday, August 15, 2022

Mystery Monday: Fergus Hume

Mystery Monday: Fergus Hume

Despite publishing over one hundred and thirty novels, Ferguson (or Fergusson) Wright Hume, writing as Fergus Hume, has long been forgotten. He was born in Powick, Worcestershire, England, but when he was three years old the family emigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand where his father founded the first private mental hospital. After graduation with a law degree from the University of Otago, he was admitted to the bar in 1885 and went to work as a barrister’s clerk in Melbourne.

In his off hours, he wrote plays, but couldn’t find anyone among the theaters to accept, let alone read his scripts. He was given the advice to write novels to grab the attention of theater managers. Knowing how popular French mystery author Emile Gaboriau was in Melbourne, Hume decided to pursue detective fiction. He purchased a set of Gaboriau’s novels to read and study after which he wrote The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.

Said Hume: “Having completed the book, I tried to get it published, but everyone to whom I offered it
refused to even look at the manuscript on the grounds that no Colonial (referring to his New Zealand upbringing) could write anything worth reading.” He self-published 5,000 copies of the book in 1886, which reportedly sold out in three weeks. However, he saw little of the profits because of having sold the British and American rights. (Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time!) Fortunately, he retained the dramatic rights, and the play version saw long Australian and London theater runs.

The plot seems simple: a man is found dead in a hansom cab and one of Melbourne’s leading citizens is accused of the crime. He claims to be innocent, yet refuses to provide an alibi. Then the author adds a determined lawyer and equally determined detective who unearth long-kept secrets, and the riddles and complexities begin. The book is the first of the Melbourne Trilogy, but the first story was the most popular. When asked what he thought about the book, Arthur Conan Doyle commented, “Hansom Cab was a slight tale, mostly sold by ‘puffing.’” Jealous, perhaps? His Study in Scarlet came out the following year.

In 1888, Hume returned to England where he lived for almost thirty years at Church Cottage in Thundersley, Essex. He never married and traveled extensively. Several reports say he was a “deeply religious” man and tended to avoid publicity. He was a prolific writer, but he never saw the same success that he’d had with his debut novel. Toward the end of his life, he often lectured at young people’s clubs and debating societies.

He died of a heart attack in July 1932 and left an estate valued at £201. Many of his works can be found in Project Gutenberg for no cost. Check one of them out!


Under Fire

Set in April 1942, Under Fire, the first book in the Ruth Brown Mystery Series, tells the story of Ruth Brown whose missing sister jane is declared dead. Convinced her sister is still alive, Ruth follows clues from her small New Hampshire town to war-torn London trying to find her. Discovering that Jane has been murdered results in a faith crisis for Ruth, and she decides she must find Jane’s killer. During her search for the culprit, she runs into smugglers, resistance fighters, and the IRA, all of whom want her dead for what she knows.

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