Fletcher Knebel Essay - Critical Essays

Knebel, Fletcher


Knebel, Fletcher 1911–

Knebel is an American novelist. His experience as a journalist in Washington has enabled him to write suspense stories with credible political settings and complex characters. These novels reveal his liberal ideals and his interest in the struggle for power. He has coauthored novels with Charles W. Bailey II. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Sander Vanocur

It would be a mistake to dismiss [Seven Days in May], as some already have, because it reads like a thriller. The authors [Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II] obviously believe that it is not necessary to be dull if a subject is serious. It will be a runaway best-seller because it is well written, because it is virtually impossible to put it down once you have picked it up. The same thing was true of Advise and Consent. The main difference between the two books, apart from the weight, is that the characters in Seven Days in May are plausible. (p. 23)

This is an important book. Somehow in this country, we have not produced any first-rate modern novels about the uses which men make of power. We have had limited exercises in certain localized areas like California in Eugene Burdick's The Ninth Wave and in Louisiana in Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. But we have not had, until this book, any serious, or successful, literary effort which explores what men do with the power thrust upon some of them, or seized by others, at the national level. This book is no masterpiece. It will, however, both defy and endure the efforts of those who attempt to dismiss it as superficial. (pp. 24-5)

Sander Vanocur, "Drunks, Babies and the USA," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1962 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 147, No. 14, October 1, 1962, pp. 23-5.

Robert Hatch

[The prophetic entertainer] is a writer who makes no pretense to literary art; in matters of character, narrative devices, style and psychology, he models his work on formulas developed by the large fiction magazines, by television family drama, by the commercial movies. He is out for the very largest market (and he is reaching it), but the fuel that drives his vehicle is not love or success or adventure—it is doomsday. (p. 291)

The true application of the method is to be seen in Seven Days in May …, [which is] at present leading the domestic fiction market and … which, it seems inevitable, will soon be on film for world distribution. [This novel is] built firmly on the foundations of suspense, sustained and sweeping action, the verisimilitude of technical detail, and simplistic but strongly projected character. These ingredients of success could be predicted; more important is the fact that [the book does not allow] a gap of time or place between the reader and the fiction. Seven Days in May … [is] as immediate, in the inevitable phrase, as tomorrow's newspaper.

Knebel and Bailey … write as men intimately acquainted with the public streets and private channels of the capital. Their tale is of a narrowly averted plot by the military leadership to unseat the President and seize the country….

The authors shape their narrative, not only to carry the reader on an unbroken chase after excitement, but to neutralize his...

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William Barrett

[Seven Days in May] had a freshness and suspense of melodrama to recommend it and was a great popular success;… [Convention], however, is corny and mechanical, and at times it seems an echo of Mr. Vidal's play [The Best Man]….

To [various] stock villains the authors have added another that is bound to become a staple of the new political thriller: a computing machine used to store data of the most personal kind on the delegates so that they can be shamelessly pressured into voting the way the big bosses, big business, and big labor, miraculously banded together, want them to. In their serenade to political virtue, Messrs. Knebel and Bailey have pulled out all the stops, but the notes are sour.

William Barrett, "Problems of Power," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1964 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 213, No. 4, April, 1964, pp. 146-47.

Chad Walsh

Night of Camp David begins with a standard plot: a junior senator summoned to a mysterious conference with the President, and informed that he is being considered for the vice-presidential nomination. Predictably, the senator—a handsome, lazy lout—has a lush lady friend hidden away, though his own wife—as demonstrated later when she doffs her pajamas and goes swimming by moonlight—is adequately endowed. Predictably, our hero finds himself torn between newly born ambitions and old lusts, and quickly votes for the former.

So far, almost the archetypal political novel, complete with worldly-wise lawyers and cynical political advisers. But what gives Mr. Knebel's tale a fresh twist is the personality of the President, who slowly reveals himself as a top-drawer paranoid with delusions of persecution and grandeur….

The story is swift-moving, and the characters, though not studies in depth, seem plausible enough. There is even a certain poignancy in the unexpected nobility of the President when he donates the surprise ending. For a political thriller—which does indeed dramatize the awesome problems surrounding the office of President—this is distinctly above average.

Chad Walsh, "Split Ticket," in Book Week—New York Herald Tribune (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), May 30, 1965, p. 14.

Marion Armstrong

George Orwell's 1984 is still a relaxing 14 years away [note date of this essay]; if in the interval we refuse to be shunted into its inhuman and insane approaches, we may yet avoid our indicated psychic and political annihilation. But 1973, the year of Fletcher Knebel's new novel [Trespass], will be with us in another 36 months, and the book is so perfectly credible that one can imagine reading it as faintly fictionalized history in—say—1978. Rapidly paced, absorbing in the adventure-story mode and rather gaudily written, Trespass hypothesizes a sample and small-scale but tightly plotted thrust against white money and white power by a dedicated group of black militants known as the B.O.F.—Blacks of February 21st (the date of Malcolm X's assassination)…. All the characters are well developed, all momentarily fascinating….

As the word trespass cuts two ways it it clear that in the given context neither white landowner nor black assailant has a lien on righteousness; nor is either quite guiltless of bad faith. Trespass's strength lies in its unwelcome plausibility, its assumption that our racial troubles are just beginning. I should like to find it melodramatic, but I don't….

Marion Armstrong, "Perfectly Credible," in The Christian Century (copyright 1969 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the December 24, 1969 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. LXXXVI, No. 52, December 24, 1969, p. 1646.

Martin Levin

"Dark Horse" recalls those old Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper movies, where Mr. Smith or Mr. Deeds outsmart the corrupt hotshots of the System. The lifestyle here is different (the author has projected his plot four years ahead, into the climax of election year 1976), but the platitudes are familiar.

In Mr. Knebel's heavy-footed political comedy, the Jimmy Stewart role is taken by Eddie Quinn, an ex-trucker who is processed into instant Presidential timber when his party's candidate drops dead three weeks before the voting. If the bosses think they can manipulate Eddie, currently a New Jersey Turnpike Commissioner, they have another think coming—from the moment he throws away the predigested text of...

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Gene Venable

Phony plus phony equals funny. That is the formula for [Dave Sulkin Cares!]. It works, within limits.

Fletcher Knebel … here scores a mild success, pitting two con-persons against each other. The plot suggests a new answer to the old paradox: what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Knebel's answer is that if the forces are a con man and con woman, they fall in love, give up their bogus ways for normal lives, and abandon their glamorous lives for the same dull round of ordinary existence.

As you can see, I was saddened when this lively couple decided to quit their evil ways at the end of the book. For me, the height of the book comes at the...

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