Melville Davisson Post (1869 – 1930)


melville-davisson-post

Melville Davisson Post (1869 – 1930 ) was an American author, born in Harrison County, West Virginia. Although his name is not immediately familiar to those outside of specialist circles, many of his collections are still in print, and many collections of detective fiction include works by him. Post’s best-known character is the mystery solving, justice dispensing West Virginian backwoodsman, Uncle Abner. The 22 Uncle Abner tales, written between 1911 and 1928, have been called some of “the finest mysteries ever written”. Post’s other recurring characters include the lawyers Randolph Mason and Colonel Braxton, and the detectives Sir Henry Marquis and Monsieur Jonquelle. His total output was approximately 230 titles, including several non-crime novels.

Post was born on 19 April 1869 in Harrison County, West Virginia, the son of Ira Carper Post, a wealthy farmer; his mother was Florence May (née Davisson). Post earned a law degree from West Virginia University in 1892 and was elected the same year as the youngest member of the Electoral College. His first published Uncle Abner story was in 1911, and they appeared in newspapers throughout the country. His collection of Uncle Abner stories was first printed in 1918 and remained in print (at its original price) for two decades, which Craig Johnson believes made him the highest paid and most commercially published author of that time. Collier Books reprinted the stories in 1962 and the University of California Press in 1974.

In 1903, he married Ann Bloomfield Gamble Schofield. Their only child, a son, died in infancy, after which Melville and Ann travelled in Europe. Ann died of pneumonia in 1919. Post, an avid horseman, died on June 23, 1930, after falling from his horse at age 61. He had published 230 titles, most of them crime fiction. (Excerpts from Wikipedia)

Uncle Abner, the most famous literary character created by Melville Davisson Post, is a righteous amateur detective, a keen observer of human actions with profound knowledge and love for the Bible. On his journeys around the backwoods of West Virginia, long before a proper police system is in place, he is confronted by murders and mysteries that cannot be ignored. He helps to solve them with his impressive intuition and deductive skills. Abner’s adventures are populated with peculiar characters and intriguing adventures set in the rough but fascinating land ‘where men concealed their feelings as one conceals the practice of a crime; and one would have stolen his neighbor’s goods before he would have intruded upon the secrecy of his emotions.’ This collection of eighteen stories, first published in 1918, with the pivotal character of justice-dispensing Uncle Abner connecting them all, is often considered among the most important American detective and crime fiction. (Source: Bloomsbury) Uncle Abner Master of Mysteries: A Collection of Classic Detective Stories (1918) is listed in The Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones of Detective Fiction]

Further reading:

  • Articles on Melville Davisson Post at Mystery File
  • “The Man of Last Resort”: the Outrageous World of Randolph Mason by Michael Mallory at Mystery Scene
  • Mike Grost’s article on Meville Davisson Post is at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection
  • Charles A. Norton has written a fine biography and critical study of Post, Melville Davisson Post: Man of Many Mysteries (1973). It covers Post’s whole output of short fiction in great depth, story by story.

‘There is a case to be made that the Uncle Abner stories — the twenty-two tales of the Virginia hills written by Melville Davisson Post from 1911 to 1928 — are among the finest mysteries ever written. Ellery Queen certainly thought so, calling the stories “an out-of-this-world target for future detective-story writers to take shots at.” In Cargoes for Crusoes, a failed 1924 attempt to teach literary critics about the quality of popular magazine fiction, Grant Overton called the 1914 appearance of Post’s “The Doomdorf Mystery” a major literary event. In a later survey of the genre — the 1941 Murder for Pleasure, a book that succeeded where Overton’s had failed in convincing critics to take mysteries more seriously as literature — Howard Haycraft declared that Uncle Abner was, after Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin, “the greatest American contribution to the form.” When William Faulkner, discouraged by slow sales of his highbrow fiction, tried his hand at thrillers, Post was the model to which he turned.’ (Excerpt from Washington Examiner, you can read the entire article here)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. D. Appleton and Company (USA), 1918)

Summary: First published in 1918, Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries is an anthology of detective stories written by Melville Davisson Post. The popular stories within this collection were serialized in national magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post in the early twentieth century.

Uncle Abner is an amateur detective in present-day Harrison County, West Virginia. Throughout his journeys around this antebellum wilderness, long before the nation had a proper police system, the honest Uncle Abner is confronted by murders and mysteries that cannot be ignored. With uncanny intuition, impressive logic, and keen observation of human actions, Uncle Abner is Melville Davisson Post’s most celebrated literary creation and is considered to be one of the most important texts in American detective and crime fiction.

This new edition contains an introduction by Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire novels. (Source: West Virginia University Press)

The adventures of a true American original—a detective who puts equal faith in his Bible and his brains

In the backwoods of West Virginia, years before the Civil War, a man arrives with gold in his purse and evil on his mind. His land too barren for farming, Doomdorf builds a still and grows rich selling high-proof moonshine to anyone with a bit of change in his pocket. As drunkenness and debauchery run rampant across the countryside, the locals turn against him. They are preparing to exact frontier justice when the bootlegger is found dead, shot through the heart in a room locked from the inside. At the scene is Uncle Abner, a folksy sleuth who uses a keen eye and steadfast beliefs to solve the mysteries of Appalachia. In this landmark story collection, Abner contends with hunchbacks and drunkards, killers and thieves. In a time and a place beyond the rule of law, justice belongs to the Lord—and Uncle Abner is His instrument. (Source: Mysterious Press)

Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries has been reviewed, among others, at Classic Mysteries.

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