Fergus Hume is best known for his first novel, the Melbourne-set detective story The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886). He was, however, an extremely prolific writer, churning out more than fifty books of detective and fantastic fiction over the next few decades. Although none of these achieved anything like as great a success as his first book, which became a publishing phenomenon, he remained fairly popular and is still a favourite with many modern-day devotees of detection, his reputation having benefited from several cheap electronic reissues and the advent of Project Gutenberg.
Hume followed up Hansom Cab with a Gothic shocker, Professor Brankel’s Secret (1886). This short novel was first published in Melbourne in an edition specifically produced for sale at railway bookstalls. It’s a fairly obvious rip-off of elements of Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but it also foreshadows some of the Edwardian weird fiction of Edward Heron-Allen, with its story of a German professor who becomes obsessed with finding the missing ingredient for a potion which he believes will grant him mystical abilities.
The original edition is extremely rare – but Hume later included the novella as a sort of ‘B feature’ to his murder mystery The Lone Inn (1894) which is, if not widely available, then at least not quite as scarce!