Poor Henry Moon is described as a young man who might otherwise have become a non-entity had he not met Disher. He is called a follower and that is exactly what he does for about 75% of the book. He is sent out to follow and shadow a variety of suspicious characters. His very physical work uncovers vital clues and unexpected developments in this baffling case involving anonymous letters, an invisible gang of criminals, and a rash of mysterious disappearances. Disher leaves most of the work to Henry just as Nero Wolfe relied on good ol' Archie Goodwin. When Disher decides to take charge, however, he can display an unconventional outside of the box approach to interrogating his suspects like the puzzled gardener of whom he demands to know where he went to school, if he won any prizes and how often he attends church. All Disher's questions seem utterly random and immaterial to both the reader and the gardener who expects to be interrogated about his missing employer.
There is an element of Edgar Wallace in The Black Stamp. Several important politicians and business leaders throughout Europe and the United States have received letters sealed with the titular black stamp. Each letter briefly accuses the recipient of being better off dead and shortly after receiving one of these stamped letters the recipient vanishes without a trace. In one instance the letter receiver vanishes from a locked room in which the lights go out briefly while Disher is standing next to him qualifying the novel as an impossible crime book. The solution to that particular disappearance is solved fairly quickly and in an ingenious way that I believe is the first instance of such a gimmick.
The scenes between Disher and Hamilton Harris, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in American steel, are some of the best in the book. Harris is as irascible and intolerant as Disher. "You're mighty conceited" he says to Disher whose rejoinder is "A peacock posing as a peacock is just a peacock. It is when a sparrow struts around in the guise of a pheasant... But do have a cigar, Mr. Harris."
Disher may be supercilious and intolerant, but I find his slant on the world (and himself) pretty damn funny. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
On living outside a city:
"Suburbs are the curse of civilization. They are pure poison. In them the spirit of dullness has been captured and given a life sentence. It would not surprise me to learn some day that Hell is the suburbs of Heaven."
"There is no occasion on which I am unwilling to talk, except in sleep. [Talk] is an art which I have brought to a state of perfection almost unbelievable. I am its Beethoven."
On lack of observation:
"The fool never recognized me! He is the kind of idiot that would take the Angel Gabriel by the shoulder, and say: 'Give me that instrument! What are you doing here?'"
Occasionally the Disher books turn up dirt cheap in the used book market. I haven't checked if there are free online versions, but I suspect that since they are in the public domain at least one of them probably is out there in the digital airspace. Happy hunting!
Will Disher detective thrillers
Disher - Detective (1925) - US Title: The Black Stamp
The Mask (1929)
* * *
Reading Challenge update: Golden Age, space N3 - " Book published under more than one title"