Ernest K(ellogg) Gann Brian Garfield - Essay

Brian Garfield

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At his best, Ernest K. Gann is spectacularly good. An experienced airman and a skillful narrative writer, he has staked out a claim to a thrilling pilot's sky. Readers of Fate Is the Hunter and some of his ten other books must anticipate keenly the prospect of climbing back into the cockpit beside the old master. In [In the Company of Eagles] however, he fails to prove up his claim…. The two scantily realized principals of the new book … are little more than mouthpieces for the weary statement that war is hell. (pp. 55, 58)

[The] central story is about an insignificant battle in a giant catastrophic war. And actually perhaps the only significance of a war novel today can be in the stubborn survival of individual conflicts. But coming long after Paths of Glory and the multitude of Gary Cooper-Franchot Tone-Fredric March movies of the Thirties (and even "The Blue Max"), Eagles has little to add. Its main characters are curiously distant, and its plot, which builds like an abbreviated Young Lions to an inevitable duel between the pilot-antagonists, has none of the heroic proportion that might lift it into either the realm of tragedy or that of high adventure. Only the concluding note of faith in humanity and mercy leaves one with a sense of hope.

We are not, this time, in the cockpit with Ernest Gann. The vitality is no longer there; the best one can do is wait, and hope, for Gann's next novel. (p. 58)

Brian Garfield, "Duel in the Sky," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLIX, No. 52, December 24, 1966, pp. 55, 58.