Nov 13 2022
The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, part 1
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for anyone who loves mysteries and detective stories. We’re making our way through the 19th-century stories that helped the genre evolve. Next up: Fergus Hume’s 1886 novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Australia’s first literary sensation, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide upon publication. Set in the charming and deadly streets of Melbourne, this thriller highlights class and social issues as a crime is committed by an unknown assassin.So Many Mysteries — Who is the dead man, why was he killed, who killed him, and is the man who killed him the same guy who hailed the hansom cab? And what is Brian Fitzgerald hiding? The complex plot has many twists and turns, along with several suspects and red herrings. And don’t forget the “exotic” setting. What are your thoughts about this Australian sensation?“One of the Cleverest of the Melbourne Detectives” — Mr. Gorby is the first detective we meet. Is he really “one of the cleverest of the Melbourne detectives”? What do you think of his process of detection and the conclusions he reaches? All the Other Detectives — Calton, Madge Frettlby, Fitzgerald, and Kilsip all play the role of detective in the story. What do you think of their detective work? How do they compare with Gorby?Was Nero a Pleasant Man? — The narrator says some see Nero’s cruelties as the result of an “overflow of high spirits and regard Henry VIII in the light of a henpecked husband unfortunate in the possession of six wives. These people delight in expressing their sympathy with great scoundrels of the Ned Kelly order. They view them as the embodiment of heroism, unsympathetically and disgracefully treated by the narrow understanding of the law. If one half the world does kick a man when he is down, the other half invariably consoles the prostrate individual with halfpence.” Thoughts?The Author’s Take on Women — Women love to shop for things they don’t want or need. Men can’t possibly understand women. Women prattle on and draw upon feminine instincts instead of reason. Women often suffer from brain fever caused by mental strain. Women’s highly strung nerves are the reason they age faster than men. How did these comments make you feel?The Insane Among Us — The doctor says “there are more mad people at large than the world is aware of. [T]here are many people … whose lives are one long struggle against insanity, and yet who eat, drink, talk, and walk with the rest of their fellow men, apparently as gay and lighthearted as they are.” The Land of Opportunity — Mark Frettlby came to Australia “determined to become a rich man.” Brian Fitzgerald “had that extraordinary vivacious Irish temperament, which enables a man to put all trouble behind his back, and thoroughly enjoy the present.” What were their lives like back in England and Ireland, and how did they become wealthy in Australia?The Class System — The novel points out the differences between fashionable Melbourne (including the Frettlbys), men of few means (Oliver Whyte and Roger Moreland), the working class (the hansom cab driver, the landlady, and Sal Rawlins), and “guttersnipes” (scruffy, badly behaved street urchins like Mother Guttersnipe). How did the narrator and characters feel about these class distinctions? How did you feel about them?