MURRAY FORBES – Hollow Triumph. Ziff-Davis, hardcover, 1946. Stark House, trade paperback, 2023.

HOLLOW TRIUMPH. Eagle-Lion, 1948. Also released as The Scar (Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett; directors: Steve Sekely, Paul Henreid).

   Murray Forbes’ Hollow Triumph  has an interesting idea for a book: Henry Mueller is a failed medical student and small-time chiseler with an over-sized ego, fresh out of prison when he discovers he bears an amazing resemblance to Viktor Bartok, a prominent psychologist.

   Readers of this sort of thing will figure at once that Mueller will kill Bartok and take his place, and that’s pretty much what happens, but Forbes gives it a cute twist: Mueller’s impersonation becomes a greater success than he figured on (The American Dream: if you fail at one thing, re-invent yourself as something else.) and as time passes, he wins even greater fortune and honor… and he can’t stand the fact that the murdered man is getting all the credit for his killer’s work: Mueller rubbed out Bartok, but it was Mueller who got erased, and his overweening pride leads him to….

   It’s a clever thought, and somebody should write a book about it someday; Murray Forbes just didn’t seem too interested. Time and again he just tells us about things when he should be showing them. So we get lines like “She felt suspicious,” or “He was scared,” which ain’t exactly deathless prose. There are even points where Forbes seem to lose interest entirely, and instead of storytelling, he resorts to synopsis, resulting in passages like, “He went to New York to received the honor, then came back and continued work with his patients …”

   I kept reading, but I’m not sure why.

   Fans of Old Time Radio may recall Forbes as an actor on Ma Perkins and other programs, but this was his only novel, and in 1948 the Movies bought it, discarded most of the plot, noired up the rest, and released it under the original title and as The Scar. Like Forbes’ writing Paul Henreid’s acting is just perfunctory, but there’s fine photography by john Alton, and Daniel Fuchs’ script makes intelligent use of a plot twist that would have been a facile punch-line in lesser hands.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #34, September 2004.