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Book Review: Our Man In the Dark

 

Author: Rashad Harrison

Publisher: Atria Books, 2011

Genre: Historical Fiction

My Rating: B

Summary (from the publisher):

A stunning debut historical noir novel about a worker in the civil rights movement who became an informant for the FBI during the months leading up to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Feeling unappreciated and overlooked, John Estem, a bookkeeper for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), steals ten thousand dollars from the organization.

To the bookkeeper’s dismay, the FBI has been keeping close tabs on Dr. King and his fellow activists—including Estem—for years. FBI agents tell Estem that it is his duty, as an American and as a civil rights supporter, to protect the SCLC from communist infiltration.

Playing informant empowers Estem, but he soon learns that his job is not simply to relay information on the organization. The FBI discovers evidence of King’s sexual infidelities, and set out to undermine King’s credibility as a moral leader.

This timely novel comes in light of recent revelations that government informants had infiltrated numerous black movement organizations. With historical facts at the core of Our Man in the Dark, Harrison uses real life as a great inspiration for his drama-filled art.

My Thoughts:

Our Man in the Dark is a fascinating novel, especially for a debut novel. This was a little like reading a 1930s crime novel (a la Raymond Chandler) and listening to political gossip in the 1960s. That’s part of it, but it’ also a rather complex story..

I had no sympathy for John Estem, the main character. I also had no sympathy for the other scudzy FBI people or the underworld characters or some of the people in the SCLC.  But, at the same time, I was so curious to find out what John Estem would do next that I kept on reading.

One of the great things about reading this kind of historical fiction is that it feels so real. It’s based on facts and people of the time and situation. I had to remind myself that John Estem wasn’t real. It was hard when the others people in the story were.

Some readers may not like the parts of the story involving Martin Luther King. Over the years he’s become something close to a saint. The story involves a human look at the man including his foibles. This is also an unflattering look at the FBI. I confess that all of this was a bit self-satisfying. I lived during this tine period when there were rumors of all these events but nothing was ever official.

As I said above, it’s a complex story. Read it if you like this kind of story.

About the Author:

Rashad Harrison has been a contributor to MedicineAgency.com, an online journal of political and cultural commentary, and his writing has appeared in Reed magazine. As a Jacob K. Javits Fellow, he earned a Master of Fine of Arts in Creative Writing from New York University. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book and to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be a part of it all. To see other stops on the book tour, visit the schedule here: TLC Book Tours

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