Impending doom seems to be the theme of the 1962 best-selling novels. My favorites are each by a pair of writers.
Fail Safe and Seven Days in May are thrillers in every sense of the word. Both are marked by taut prose and tightly constructed plots. Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler’s Fail Safe, though, conveys a continuing sense of menace that makes it my top pick of ’62. No one reading Fail Safe today could deny the US still is vulnerable to failures in its too-big-to-fail systems.
Seven Days in May is a political thriller about a conspiracy to overthrow the President. While there are striking similarities between the book’s events and contemporary news, Fletcher Knevel and Charles W. Bailey’s White House has a very low-key, Eisenhower era feel that doesn’t create the sense of continuing menace Fail Safe does.
Allen Drury’s A Shade of Difference is my third-place pick. The politicians who fill its pages are aware of being part of history. They see the significance of events they are helping to shape. The complex plot that makes the book intriguing also make it easy to forget what happens in the novel.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh deserves an honorable mention. The quiet prose of her Dearly Beloved fares badly by contrast to the high voltage thrillers. When read among quieter books, however, Lindbergh’s novel gently creates room for thoughtful reflection on the status and future of the institution of marriage.