Melville Davisson Post
|Born||April 19, 1869|
Harrison County, West Virginia, US
|Died||June 23, 1930 (aged 61)|
Harrison County, West Virginia, US
Melville Davisson Post (April 19, 1869 – June 23, 1930) was an American writer, 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.
Early life and education
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's family had settled in the Clarksburg, West Virginia area in the late 18th century.
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. He practiced law with a firm in Wheeling, West Virginia but became uninterested in politics, instead concentrating on writing. 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, Ira) died in infancy, after which Melville and Ann travelled in Europe. They later owned and managed a stable for polo ponies. 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. He is buried in Elkview Masonic cemetery in Harrison County.
In the first two volumes (The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason and The Man of Last Resort, published 1896–1897), Mason is depicted as an utterly amoral character who advises criminals how to commit wrongdoings without breaking the letter of the law. The best-known of these stories is "The Corpus Delicti", in which Mason's client murders a blackmailing lover and dissolves her dismembered corpse in acid. Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Mason secures his client's acquittal on the grounds that no body has been found and there are no eyewitnesses to the woman's death. (New York law at the time allowed one of these two conditions to be established by circumstantial evidence, but not both.) Post deflected criticism of such sensational stories by declaring that he was publicly exposing weaknesses in the law that needed to be rectified. Nevertheless, in a third volume (1908's The Corrector of Destinies), Mason had become a reformed man who used his knowledge of the law for more beneficent purposes. Post explained Mason's change of character by stating the lawyer had been suffering from mental illness in the two earlier volumes.
Uncle Abner is Post's best-known literary creation, the character, one of six detectives created by Post, having appeared in 22 stories that were serialized in American magazines (primarily The Saturday Evening Post) between 1911 and 1928. The first tale, "The Angel of the Lord", is perhaps the very first work in the historical mystery genre. Uncle Abner solved the mysteries that confronted him in a backwoods West Virginia community, immediately prior to the American Civil War and before the infant nation had any proper police system. He had two great attributes for his self-imposed task: a profound knowledge of and love for the Bible, and a keen observation of human actions. One example of Uncle Abner's keen deductive skills is his showing a deaf man had not written a document, because a word in it was phonetically misspelled.
Physically, Abner is described as having a large, powerful build, with craggy features, and a "grizzled" beard. His clothing is described as "plain and somber". Throughout the stories he is accompanied by his young nephew Martin, who narrates the adventures, and aided by Justice of the Peace, Squire Randolph.
Ellery Queen would later call the stories "an out-of-this-world target for future detective-story writers." In his 1924 book of literary criticism Cargoes for Crusoes, Grant Overton called the publication of Post's "The Doomdorf Mystery" a "major literary event", and in Murder for Pleasure (1941), Howard Haycraft called Uncle Abner "the greatest American contribution" to the list of fictional detectives after Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. After Post's death, more stories about Abner were written (at the request of the Melville Davisson Post estate) by the retired American research chemist, John F. Suter (1914-1996).
In 1942, The Age of Miracles was adapted for the radio anthology series Murder Clinic. A. Winfield Hoeny played Abner. In 1945, Signature, a stage adaptation by Elizabeth McFadden of an Abner short story, Naboth's Vineyard, lasted only two performances. Abner was played by Judson Laire.
Besides Mason, Abner, and Walker, Post also created the detectives Sir Henry Marquis of Scotland Yard (The Sleuth of St James Square, 1920), the French policeman Monsieur Jonquelle (Monsieur Jonquelle: Prefect of Police of Paris, 1923), and the Virginia lawyer Colonel Braxton (The Silent Witness, 1930).
- The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (Putnam, 1896) (available from Internet Archive)
- The Man of Last Resort (The Clients of Randolph Mason) (Putnam, 1897) (available from Internet Archive)
- Dwellers in the Hills (Putnam, 1901) (available from Project Gutenberg)
- The Corrector of Destinies (Clode, 1908) (available from Internet Archive)
- The Gilded Chair (Appleton, 1910) (available from Internet Archive)
- The Nameless Thing (Appleton, 1912)
- Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries (Appleton, 1918) (available from Wikisource)
- The Mystery at the Blue Villa (Appleton, 1919)
- The Sleuth of St. James Square (Appleton, 1920) (available from Project Gutenberg)
- The Mountain School-Teacher (Appleton, 1922) (available from Internet Archive)
- Monsieur Jonquelle (Appleton, 1923). Originally serialised in a US newspaper under the title Triumphs of M Jonquelle
- Walker of the Secret Service (Appleton, 1924)
- The Man Hunters (Sears, 1926)
- Revolt of the Birds (Appleton, 1927)
- The Bradmoor Murder (Sears, 1929). Published in Britain in 1929 as The Garden in Asia by Brentano
- The Silent Witness (Farrar, 1930)
- The Methods of Uncle Abner (published posthumously by Aspen in 1974)
- German War Ciphers. Everybody's, June 1918
- Herbert, Rosemary (2000). Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507239-6.
- Bottum, Joseph (May 1, 2007). "America's Greatest Mystery Writer". FirstThings.com. First Things. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
- Nevins, Francis M. (2014). "From Darwinian to Biblical Lawyering: Melville Davisson Post". Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Law: Exploring the Legal Dimensions of Fiction and Film. Perfect Crime Books. pp. 12–60. ISBN 9781935797692.
- Moore, Charles F. (8 December 2015). "Melville Davisson Post". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Routledge, Christopher (2012). "Post, Melville Davisson (1869-1930)". In Powell, Stephen (ed.). 100 American Crime Writers. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 281–282. ISBN 9781137031662. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- Melville Davisson Post, Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries (West Virginia Humanities Council reprint 2015), introduction by Craig Johnson at p. ix.
- Johnson at p. x
- Sullivan, Ken (ed.), The West Virginia Encyclopedia, West Virginia Humanities Council, 2006. pg. 578
- Johnson p. xix
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
- Mallory, Michael (2005). "'The Man of Last Resort': the Outrageous World of Randolph Mason". Mystery Scene. Fall (91). Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
- Loerzel, Robert. "The Corpus Delicti". Alchemy of Bones. Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
- Brown, Patricia J. (2010). "The Image of the Attorney: The Character of Attorney Randolph Mason in three books by Melville Davisson Post". Selected Works. Bepress. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
- Rosemary., Herbert (2003-01-01). Whodunit? : a who's who in crime & mystery writing. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0195157613. OCLC 252700230.
- Moore, Charles F. (5 December 2010). "Uncle Abner". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
- "MURDER CLINIC: Radio's Golden Age of Detection". mysteryfile.com. Retrieved November 2, 2023.
- Lachman, Marvin (2014). The villainous stage : crime plays on Broadway and in the West End. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9534-4. OCLC 903807427.
- Norton, Charles A. Melville Davisson Post: Man of Many Mysteries. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green U Popular P, 1973.
- West Virginia & Regional History Center at West Virginia University, Melville Davisson Post
- Media related to Melville Davisson Post at Wikimedia Commons
- Works by or about Melville Davisson Post at Wikisource
- Works by Melville Davisson Post at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Melville Davisson Post at Internet Archive
- Works by Melville Davisson Post at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Melville Davisson Post at Find a Grave