Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The People, Yes

TRESPASS is a 1969 political thriller written by an author who wrote a lot of good ones.

Fletcher Knebel, whose outstanding novels SEVEN DAYS IN MAY and VANISHED were turned into motion pictures, wrote TRESPASS for Doubleday (the paperback was released by Pocket Books). It's dated today, thank goodness, but it well captures the contentious relationships between races in America during the Vietnam War era. The plot feels exaggerated, looking back on it forty years later, but I bet it raised a lot of arm hairs on white readers in 1969.

Wealthy Tim and Liz Crawford return to their lavish New Jersey estate, Fairhill, after a Saturday night party to discover it has been hijacked by a handful of black revolutionaries led by the intelligent Ben Steele. Knebel leaves the reader as isolated as the Crawfords, who have two small children at home, for the first five chapters, as we discover Steele's purpose, which is to force Crawford to turn over his land as restitution for Crawford's father earning his fortune on the backs of black laborers.

Eventually, we discover Fairhill isn't the only mansion overrun by armed black men. There are five others, and no less than the President of the United States is aware of the mass hostage-taking. The blacks are members of a radical organization called the Blacks of February Twenty-first (B.O.F.), and taking over these homes is just the B.O.F.'s first step in its overthrow of White America.

In addition to crafting a good deal of suspense, Knebel astutely examines race relations, carefully creating three-dimensional white and black characters, humanizing the villains and tarnishing the so-called good guys. TRESPASS is mostly told through the eyes of Steele and Crawford with occasional cuts to the White House, where the liberal President faces the most stressful weekend of his career.

I don't think TRESPASS is as intriguing as VANISHED or SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, but it's a real corker at its best moments and tells a relevant story of suspense without violence or sleaze.

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