The Man with My Face foreshadows the post-World War 2 paranoia that would show up in so many private eye novels and other suspense thrillers throughout the late 1940s and into the early 1950s. In addition to the theme of loss of identity the book is very much about trust. Finding the right person or people to believe Charles "Chick" Graham's story provides the main thrust of the plot. The only way to escape the trap of his stolen identity and avoid further victimization of the grandiose plot hatched to frame him for a $2 million bank robbery Graham decides to turn the scheme around. Rather than fruitlessly trying to prove that he is the real Graham he decides to prove that Rand (the bank robbing double) is not Graham. A subtle difference to be sure, and yet a brilliant strategy.
The story is replete with crazy coincidences. Graham finds a business card from a salesman who visited him at his office. To escape the police he pretends to be James Pease, the salesman who lives only a couple blocks away. He convinces the cop to take him home - Pease's home - and through sheer luck gets into the unlocked house. Then he has to talk his way out of that predicament when Pease walks in and asks Graham who he is and why he just walked into his home. Later, Pease will run into Graham and Rand on a commuter train and discover Graham's secret. Or what he thinks is Graham's secret.
|Barry Nelson (right) insists he is the real Charles Graham in the 1951 film|
Added to the high level of coincidence are B movie tricks and gimmicks. Much needed information is received through incredibly detailed newspaper articles and emergency radio announcements. These are easy ways out for any thriller writer and are terrible clichés to us these days. Taylor's other novice writer annoyance is what I call the Soap Opera Dialog Syndrome. Everyone addresses each other repeatedly for no reason. "Chick, how did your face end up like that?" "Well, Mary, it's a long story." "Oh Chick, I have all the time you have." "OK, Mary grab a chair" "Ready when you are, Chick." Chick, Mary, Chick, Mary! Blah, blah, blah! On a radio or TV show this is sometimes necessary. In a book where the scene is between two characters it's completely unnecessary. A minor complaint but one that just grates on my nerves when the dialog is made up of 90% of these type of exchanges.
Slowly Rand sees that his scheme is falling apart and he does his best to enlist some other villains to prevent Graham from succeeding in ruining the plan. There are several brutal murders, two abductions, a handful of dog attacks, and a fortuitous run-in with a poison oak bush that temporarily gives Graham an unwanted disguise. Amid all this action there is also some legitimate and very clever detection on the part of Graham, Mary, Walt and even James Pease –- the salesman who will make one final appearance in a scene involving a walk-in meat freezer.
As if all that preceded wasn't enough Taylor adds a final surprising twist and eleventh hour salvation from the least likeliest character to have uncovered the plot. All in all, a remarkable debut from a crime writer who contributed only two books to the genre. Taylor's second book, with the unfortunate title of The Grinning Gismo, will be reviewed here in the future. I highly recommend The Man with My Face as a perfect example of an imaginative cat-and-mouse thriller with the added bonus of some well thought out detective story elements.