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The McGovan Casebook
Out of Print

Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Publication Date
01 October 2003
Out of Print
Birlinn Limited
Age Range
19th century

The McGovan Casebook

Experiences of a Detective in Victorian Edinburgh
by James McGovan - Find out more about the author

’McGovan’s tales are filled with wisdom and black humour which stand the test of time’--Quintin Jardine in Evening News


Almost twenty years after the publication of Detective James McLevy’s memoirs there appeared in Edinburgh a series of volumes purporting to be the autobiographical writings of another policeman from the city, James McGovan. The first was Brought to Bay, or Experiences of a City Detective, which was issued by the Edinburgh Publishing Company in 1878. It was followed by Strange Clues and Solved Mysteries. Encouraged by the success of these books, which by 1884 had sold 25,000 copies and been translated into French and German, the author produced a fourth, Traced and Tracked.

Despite their apparent authenticity, which was unquestioned either by the general public or the press of the day, these volumes were all the work of a musician and writer called William Crawford Honeyman. Doubtless inspired by McLevy, Honeyman created a character who can lay claim to being one of the first detectives in crime fiction. James McGovan walks the same Edinburgh beat as his real-life predecessor, shares his dry sense of humour and, like McLevy, never fails to get a conviction. According to present-day crime novelist Alannah Knight: ‘Honeyman found a gold mine in McLevy’s forgotten books. He lent the professional writer’s touch, an air of sophisticaton and added literary embellishment.’ The books will almost certainly have been known to the young Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a student in Edinburgh in the 1870s and published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887.
Hugely popular in their time—The Scotsman raved: ‘Nowhere in the English language, so far as we know, are there any detective stories which can equal these for interest and genuine ability’, and to the People’s Friend he was ‘the very Dickens of detectives’—the McGovan books are now all but forgotten. American crime writer Ellery Queen was a famous admirer, and ranked the stories alongside the works of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie as amongst the best in the detective genre.
James McGovan was the pen-name of William Crawford Honeyman, who was born in 1845 and died in 1919. He was a professional violinist, and published a number of books on the instrument under his own name.