A very, very long time ago,I reviewed Hugh Conway's novel Called Back for Geoff Bradley's magazine CADS. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoyed it all over again when I was asked to contribute an introduction to a welcome republication of the book by Harper Collins. It's just been published, and I hope that before long, it won't be possible to describe Called Back as a Forgotten Book any longer.
This novel was first published in 1883, so it preceded the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, although it post-dated the best work of Wilkie Collins. The storyline is admittedly very melodramatic. A blind man inadvertently stumbles across a murder - and when he later regains his sight, the plot thickens rapidly. As usual, I don't want to say too much about the detail of the mystery, but if you make allowances for when it was written, I think that - even though the contemporary comparisons of Conway to Collins were over-done - you will see why it did well. Fargus could tell a good story.
The book's impact was massive. Apparently over 300,000 copies were sold in twelve months, the story was adapted for the stage, and burlesque versions were produced. Conway's name was made. In fact, Hugh Conway was a pen-name adopted by Frederick Fargus. He was born in Bristol in 1848 (perhaps Crimefest should celebrate him?) but died at the age of 37 before he'd had enough time to show that he could sustain the story-telling promise of this book in the long term. A great pity.
Harper Collins have issued this book along with a couple of others, in a new Detective Story Club edition, with a facsimile of the jacket used when the book was published under the Club's imprint in 1929. The relaunch of the Detective Story Club follows Harper Collins' earlier success with the reissuing of Detection Club books such as The Floating Admiral and Ask a Policeman, and I'm very much hoping that this will prove to be a long-running venture. The more forgotten books that are made available for present day readers, the better, above all when they are lively affairs such as Called Back.