As we move into August, and the traditional "dog days" of summer - vacation time for many, myself included - I thought it might be a good time to introduce some more-or-less neglected short story writers to this audience. The mystery short story is, to me, the perfect length for summer reading, preferably with a cool drink at hand. Read a story, then do something more important, such as taking a nap.
With that in mind, let me introduce you today to Uncle Abner, the creation of mystery writer Melville Davisson Post. In the book "Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries," published in 1918, Post created a truly remarkable character: a deeply religious, moral pioneer living in the rugged mountain country of Western Virginia back in the mid-1800s. This collection of 18 stories is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
What kind of man was Uncle Abner - and, perhaps a more important question, what kind of stories are these? They are marvelous tales of a man who sets out to bring justice to a frontier society that did not always allow for it. Uncle Abner has a knack for finding the truth - the moral truth, sometimes, rather than the literal truth. In these stories, he detects - and sometimes prevents - murder. Often, he uncovers an unsuspected crime even as he sets about solving it. As his nephew, Martin, who often narrates the stories, tells us, “for all his iron ways, Abner was a man who saw justice in its large and human aspect, and he stood for the spirit, above the letter, of the truth.”
The stories are powerful and moving. And, for the politically correct, be advised that there is some language used which today's readers are likely to find offensive, although they were certainly a part of their times, particularly in the mountains of western Virginia. I hope that won't distract you from the heart of the stories - and from Uncle Abner himself, who acts so often as the champion of the wrongly accused.
The Uncle Abner stories are out of copyright. The link above will take you to a very nice paperback edition which, to my mind, is a bit on the expensive side. There is a much less expensive electronic edition for the Amazon Kindle, and, I suspect, there are probably equally inexpensive or even free editions, via Project Gutenberg, in other popular e-book formats.
On Amazon.com, I see that a reviewer has written, “If you are a fan of mystery stories and you have not read Uncle Abner, your education is incomplete.” I couldn’t agree more.