Sunday, 18 January 2015

Penguin no. 1006: The Man With My Face
by Samuel W. Taylor

'If you ever get to know a guy really well, you find out something's eating him. Kids, yes. Young bucks with the dew in their eyes, yes. But take Joe Doakes when he's married and has a couple of kids and realizes he's not going to knock the world off its pins. When he sees he stacks up along with other Joes and can count on just about so much out of this life. And then, brother you find an unhappy man.'

Charles 'Chick' Graham plays along at first, thinking that he has been cast as the butt of some feeble joke. But by the evening's end he is aware that things are far more sinister, and that he is the victim of a conspiracy which has been carefully planned and executed over several years by those closest to him. There is only one plausible explanation of the evening's events, which is that his wife and business partner have worked together to enable a man he doesn't know to assume his identity. What he doesn't realise until later is that they had also planned to take his life.

He had arrived home from work to find someone who looked uncannily like him sitting in his place, with no one willing to admit that they knew him. His wife was adamant that she knew the stranger but not him, his dog attacked him at the stranger's behest, his business partner insisted that he and the stranger had come straight from work. When the police attend his home, Graham finds that he has no way of demonstrating his identity: he and the stranger share the same signature, and the fingerprints on his army ID turn out not to be his own. With his wife and his friends united against him, no one will give any credit to the story that he is the real Charles Graham.

But Graham finds that worse is to come. He manages to talk his way out of arrest, but within minutes of his release he learns the identity of his doppelgängar, along with the motives of his wife and business partner in their denial of him. The man with Graham's face is Albert Rand, a bank messenger who that day had murdered a bank guard and absconded with two million dollars in bank bonds. Charles Graham has been left homeless, friendless, with no possessions beyond the clothes he is wearing and the few items in his pockets, and the subject two intensive searches. The police want to arrest him for murder and theft; Rand and his allies want to ensure he goes missing.

So Graham must find a way to evade his enemies while keeping a low-enough profile that the police and a helpful public don't nab him, and he must simultaneously unravel how the scam has been worked and work out how he can defeat it by proving his true identity. This is a work of noir fiction, set in San Francisco and told in the first person from the perspective of a man who is in great danger and who has suddenly found himself in a baffling situation, but who has also known war service and so possesses the skills and temperament to deal with what has happened to him. The breakthrough comes when he realises that while he may not be able to prove that he is Charles Graham, he may be able to prove that he is not Albert Rand. The problem is that those opposing him have realised the same thing.

Whether the story's premise makes any sense never really enters into it, as its pace gives you no time to indulge in such reflections. I started this late one afternoon intending to read a few chapters while I relaxed with a glass of wine, but I was still reading hours later and I didn't put it down until I had reached the final page. If you are willing to accept the framework as the starting point and expose it to no scrutiny, the plot works perfectly and the story is engrossing. Graham is a man thinking on his feet, and there are some decisions which work for him and some he gets wrong, and so the story plays out like a game of chess with his enemies sometimes thwarting him, and he sometimes thwarting his enemies.

The reason this book first caught my attention is that there is an interesting description of Samuel W. Taylor on the back of this Penguin, with a few details which haven't made it to the Wikipedia page devoted to him:
Samuel W. Taylor was brought up in the kind of family the Western world may never see again. He is the eighth child of the third of the six wives of the incomparable John W. Taylor, one of the last Mormon pluralists. He has had over seven different occupations. These range from hobo to accountant, from fiddler to soldier, and from writer to whatever he decides to do next. He is married and lives in Redwood City, California.
I think the thing he did next was to become a screenwriter.

First published 1949. Published in Penguin Books 1954.


  1. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.

  2. This sounds like the perfect premise for a '40s film noir, Karyn. I was hoping that my public library might have a copy of the book, but no luck there. I've added it to my "Wants List."



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...