Thursday, August 4, 2016

"A warlord in the army of God"

I've posted before about a favorite collection of mystery short stories, Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries, by West Virginia author Melville Davisson Post, who resided in Lost Creek, WV, and inevitably would have known and been known by Seventh Day Baptists there. A later collection of uncollected Uncle Abner stories was published by The Aspen Press in 1974. The Methods of Uncle Abner appears to be out of print but second-hand copies can be found at reasonable prices.

From the back flyleaf about the author:
MELVILLE DAVISSON POST (1871-1930) was born in Harrison county, West Virginia, the approximate locale of the Uncle Abner stories. Although he traveled widely in his later years, he spent most of his life in this area, graduating from West Virginia University ("a college of unbeautiful nonsense," as he called it) in 1891 and receiving his law degree from the same school in 1892. For a number of years he practiced law in West Virginia and was active in Democratic state politics, eventually giving up a promising career in this field to become a full-time writer. His earliest stories, dealing with the unscrupulous lawyer, Randolph Mason, were as controversial as they were popular, demonstrating as they did how justice might be legally subverted. ....

He made his home in Lost Creek, West Virginia, where he relaxed by riding horse-back and reading the classics. He died in 1930 following a fall from a horse.
And from the front flyleaf:
UNCLE ABNER, a formidably righteous country squire of the hill region of pre-Civil War (West) Virginia, is the most memorable of a series of detectives created by Melville Davisson Post, one of the most accomplished Americans writing in the genre.... The Abner stories began appearing in magazines in 1911, and the first eighteen were collected in 1918 under the title Uncle Abner. Master of Mysteries, a volume that Ellery Queen has ranked as one of the four finest collections of detective short stories ever published.

It was Queen who announced the discovery that a second series of Abner tales had been published in The Country Gentleman in 1927 and 1928. "Utterly incredible as it may seem," he wrote, "none of the tales in this second series has ever appeared in book form—a prodigious publishing pity." .... They are for the most part equal in conception and execution to the first eighteen stories, with Abner unchanged, still a warlord in the army of God, riding forth on his chestnut horse to do battle with the forces of evil. ....

Abner was an original, and in him Post may well have given us our first truly great American detective. Dupin, after all, was a Frenchman, and until Hammett came along most American detectives were modeled, for better or for worse, after their British counterparts. But for all his Old Testament flavor, Abner is a wholly American figure, whose roots lie not in Doyle but in Melville. He is a sane Ahab, seeking not vengeance but justice, and a character no reader is likely to forget. As Edmund Crispin describes him, he is "the good man and the reasoning man splendidly combined into one."
Uncle Abner is available, free, as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and other electronic formats: Uncle Abner, Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post - Free eBook. Others of his are also there, but not The Methods of....