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Melville Davisson Post Bibliography

Melville Davisson Post

About 1919

Born(1869-04-19)April 19, 1869
Harrison County, West Virginia, USA
DiedJune 23, 1930(1930-06-23) (aged 61)
Harrison County, West Virginia
OccupationAuthor, lawyer

Melville Davisson Post (April 19, 1869 – June 23, 1930) was an American author, born in Harrison County, West Virginia.[1] 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.[2] The 22 Uncle Abner tales, written between 1911 and 1928, have been called some of "the finest mysteries ever written".[2]

Post's other recurring characters include the lawyers Randolph Mason and Colonel Braxton, and the detectives Sir Henry Marquis and Monsieur Jonquelle.[3] His total output was approximately 230 titles, including several non-crime novels.[4]


Early life and education[edit]

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).[5] Post's family had settled in the Clarksburg, West Virginia area in the late 18th century, and [4] Post earned a law degree from West Virginia University in 1892.

Personal life[edit]

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.[5] Ann died of pneumonia in 1919.


Post, an avid horseman, died on June 23, 1930, after a fall from his horse, and was buried in Harrison County.[6]


Post's boyhood home, "Templemoor", was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[7]


Randolph Mason[edit]

Post wrote three volumes of stories about Randolph Mason, a brusque New York lawyer who is highly skilled at turning legal loopholes and technicalities to his clients' advantage.[8]

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 the two conditions to be established by circumstantial evidence, but not both.)[9] Post deflected criticism of such sensational stories by affirming 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.[3][10]

Uncle Abner[edit]

Uncle Abner is Post's best-known literary creation, the character, one of six detectives created by Post,[11] 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 mis-spelt.[2][12]

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.[2][12]

Other characters[edit]

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)
  • 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 Garden in Asia by Brentano
  • The Silent Witness (Farrar, 1930)
  • The Methods of Uncle Abner (published posthumously by Aspen in 1974)


  • Norton, Charles A. Melville Davisson Post: Man of Many Mysteries. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green U Popular P, 1973.

External links[edit]

  1. ^Herbert, Rosemary (2000). Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ abcdBottum, Joseph (May 1, 2007). "America's Greatest Mystery Writer". First Things. Retrieved November 13, 2013. 
  3. ^ abNevins, 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. 
  4. ^ abMoore, Charles F. (8 December 2015). "Melville Davisson Post". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  5. ^ abRoutledge, Christopher (2012). "Post, Melville Davisson (1869-1930)". In Powell, Stephen. 100 American Crime Writers. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 281–282. ISBN 9781137031662. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  6. ^Sullivan, Ken (ed.), The West Virginia Encyclopedia, West Virginia Humanities Council, 2006. pg. 578
  7. ^National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  8. ^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. 
  9. ^Loerzel, Robert. "The Corpus Delicti". Alchemy of Bones. Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  10. ^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. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  11. ^Rosemary., Herbert, (2003-01-01). Whodunit? : a who's who in crime & mystery writing. Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 0195157613. OCLC 252700230. 
  12. ^ abMoore, Charles F. (5 December 2010). "Uncle Abner". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 

Melville Davisson Post
(1869-1930) was an American lawyer who created several series detectives, including Uncle Abner and Randolph Mason. Post was born in West Virginia and graduated from West Virginia University. He practiced criminal and corporate law and became active in politics on the Democrat side. He married Ann Bloomfield Gamble in 1903, and died at 61 following a fall from a horse.


He was a successful writer of magazine stories and pioneered the technique of developing the mystery and its solution at the same time. His detective Uncle Abner is a rugged Puritan of the early pioneer days, using his empathy and reasoning to prevent miscarriages of justice in newly settled Virginia, in a series of tales narrated by his nephew Martin. Post's other series character, Randolph Mason, is a crooked lawyer who exploits Post's knowledge of legal failings and loopholes to save his clients from punishment. Later, in The Corrector of Destinies, Mason transfers to the side of justice.


Many of Post's stories are available from Project Gutenberg and Gutenberg Australia.




The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (1896)

The Man of Last Resort (1897) aka The Clients of Randolph Mason

The Corrector of Destinies (1908)

The Nameless Thing (1912)

Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries (1918)

The Mystery at the Blue Villa (1919)

The Sleuth of St James Square (1920)

Monsieur Jonquelle (1923)

Walker of the Secret Service (1924)

The Bradmoor Murder (1929)

The Silent Witness (1930)

The Methods of Uncle Abner (1974)

The Complete Uncle Abner (1977)