Submitted by Mike Tooney

   Author and editor Grant Overton (1887-1930) thought it something of an injustice that Melville Davisson Post (1869-1930) had not received due recognition for his short story writing skills.


   In an article in The Bookman (June 1924), Overton sought to rectify that oversight.

   Long-time mystery readers should readily recognize Post’s name in regard to his two most famous creations: the righteous Uncle Abner (a stern but wise judge of human fallibility) and the deplorable Randolph Mason (morally the polar opposite of both Abner and another lawyer who would bear the name of Mason, yet just as clever).

   Overton spends a great deal of time discussing Post’s most famous short story, “The Doomdorf Mystery” (1918), his intention being to show how Post took the mystery tale and refined it into something more meaningful than a mere conundrum (and, mirabile dictu, without giving away the full solution to the locked room problem).

   While it would be best if you read Overton’s article yourself, here are a few statements that caught my attention:

    “Mr. Post is one of the few who believe the plot’s the thing… [He] takes his stand thus definitely against what is probably the prevailing literary opinion.”

    “…there is a creed, cardinal with many if not most of the best living writers, which says that the best art springs from characterization and not from a series of organized incidents, the plot; which says, further, that if the characters of a story be chosen with care and presented with conviction, they will make all the plot that is necessary or desirable by their interaction on each other.”

    “Mr. Post had, initially, two difficulties to overcome. The first was fiction’s rule of plausibility. The second was art’s demand for emotional significance, a more-than-meets-the-eye, a meaning.”

    “In fiction, there is no plausibility of cause and effect outside human behavior. The implausible (because unmeaning) manner of Doomdorf’s death is superbly supported by two flanks, the behavior of the evangelist and the behavior of a terrified, superstitious, and altogether childlike woman.”

    “In other particulars ‘The Doomdorf Mystery’ exemplifies the artistry of the author. If I have not emphasized them, it is because they are cunning of hand and brain, craftsmanship, things to be learned, technical excellences which embellish but do not disclose the secret of inspiring art. The story is compactly told; tension is established at once and is drawn more tightly with every sentence; and the element of drama is much enhanced by the forward movement.”

    “The prose style, by its brevity and by a somewhat Biblical diction, does its part to induce in the reader a sense of impending justice, of a divine retribution upon the evildoer.”

    “We commonly call one type of story a detective story simply because the solution of the mystery is assigned to some one person. He may be amateur or professional; from the standpoint of fictional plausibility he had, in most cases, better be a professional.”

    “As a noticeable refinement upon this discovery Melville Davisson Post has invented the type of mystery or detective-mystery tale in which the mysteriousness and the solution are developed together. Not suitable for the novel, which must have action, this formula of Mr. Post’s is admirable for the short story, in which there is no room for a race with crime but only for a few moments of breathlessness before a denouement.”


“Melville Davisson Post and the Use of Plot” (1924)
– Grant Overton (1887-1930)
– June 1924
– Pages 423-430

– Blanche Colton Williams
– Chapter XVII: “Melville Davisson Post”
– Pages 293-308

– “Melville Davisson Post”

A Randolph Mason story:
– “The Corpus Delicti”