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Our Man in the Dark: A Novel by Rashad…

Our Man in the Dark: A Novel

by Rashad Harrison

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This very intriguing book is written in a noir style that takes a bit of getting used to. But once you get into the rhythm of the writing you are in for a trip down a rabbit hole to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. John Estem, the protagonist is a very flawed man. He had polio as a child and has to wear a brace. His father has made him feel like less than a human being let alone a man. John has made it through school and is trying, hard, to become one of the very few black CPAs in the country. He has a job working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and thinks he is closer to Martin Luther King than he is.

Wanting to be noticed he steals $10,000 from the Conference to ostensibly start a movement in Chicago but he lured by his darker side into buying some fancy clothes and a new Cadillac to impress his childhood love. She is involved with a gangster named Count who runs a bar/lounge where she is a singer/hooker.

The FBI is looking for a way to get a man inside to spy on Dr. King and they are aware of Estem's thievery. They leverage that into having him pass them information but Estem doesn't want to spy on Dr. King so he makes a deal with Count to get the money to pay back the Conference. And so the circle is created. All of the relationships will be entwined into an explosive ending - and I don't mean Dr. King's assassination.

This is a whole different kind of historical fiction. Based on more recent history it delves into a very difficult time period in this country's history. Martin Luther King did a whole lot of good in his life but he was as human as any other powerful man who couldn't keep it in his pants. The FBI was looking to use this to destroy the Civil Rights movement. Apparently there was a contingent of blacks that didn't want change either - the ones making money on segregation. But it was a change that was necessary and it was a change that was going to happen no matter what the FBI did.

The characters surrounding Dr. King are interesting and well developed. The only thing I had a problem with was the conversations that Estem and Dr. King had late at night. It seemed odd that Dr. King would be sharing these types of thoughts with a virtual stranger in his organization. Maybe I am thinking of the man he became rather than the man he was when he started but it just didn't feel right as I was reading it. It felt like it was forced for the sake of the plot. But it's a small complaint in a compelling novel. A novel that brings to life a very un-American practice by the government that is supposed to be guarding our rights not destroying them. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Jan 13, 2012 |
What a perfect way to start 2012!

I began this book while my wife was running her New Year's Day half marathon, and in her three hour run I almost finished it. Then my wife wanted me to, like, congratulate her on her run and talk about how pretty the locale was, and really, all I wanted to do was get back to this book. It was so good, I really wanted the world to go away so I could just flippin' read.

Set in 1963, the story is told by John Estem, an accountant working for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Crippled after surviving a childhood bout with polio, Estem wants to show his father, his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his unrequited love, Candice, that he's a mover, a complicated, successful man worth knowing. His aspirations draw the attention of the FBI, who contact him about identifying Communist elements in the Civil Rights Movement. From then, Estem's world changes as he learns more about King, the FBI, and himself than he wanted to know.

Seriously, I loved this book. Estem himself is the hook, a fascinating, complicated character I liked despite, really because of, his flaws. But every other character in this book was marvelous -- complicated, surprising, real, shocking -- and Harrison's uncomfortable exploration of Dr. King's personal life was well done.

I especially adored Harrison's writing style. This book has those great memorable lines that I so enjoy in noir, that unexpected splash of lyricism and poetry among the unadorned, bald ugliness:

The woman singing with the band is Miss Candy, also known as Candice. She looks just like what her name implies -- bad for you, but oh so good. Her singing is awful, but she's not up there for her voice. She's like a sepia-tinted dream with fiery red lips flickering in the darkness. (p4)

Also, for those who are curious about why I consider this a historical: it's a contemporary novel that begins and ends in the past (1960s-1980s), set in a very distinctive historical era (the Civil Rights Movement), and features historical figures in fictionalized elements. I know that's not the current definition of histfic, but there you go.

Even if you're not typically a noir or mystery fan, consider this novel if you enjoy complicated characters and some wiggle-in-your-seat discomfort about our lionized heroes. Plus, the writing is really lovely and I think Harrison is an author to watch. I can't wait for his next novel! ( )
  unabridgedchick | Jan 3, 2012 |
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"An entertaining work of historical fiction with a touch of the noir; readers who enjoyed Don DeLillo's Libra will appreciate."
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Joshua Finnell (Nov 1, 2011)
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...being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do?  What else but try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through?  And it is this that frightens me:  Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man
For Jennifer
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Night has come, and so have the shadows that once pulled me in against my will.  I believed the promises made by those exaggerated figures that followed me, but I am no longer fooled by illusions.  Their lies must stay outside.  Up these darkened steps, and past that door, is the truth.
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An 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.

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