In the tradition of Walter Mosley and Chester Himes comes OUR MAN IN THE DARK by Rashad Harrison (Atria Books, November 2011, $25), a debut novel about a civil rights worker who becomes an informant for the FBI. Proving once again that fact is stranger than fiction, OUR MAN IN THE DARK follows last year’s revelation that famed civil rights photographer, Ernest Withers, was an FBI informant – and that informants were placed throughout black movement organizations. Skillfully plotted, with remarkably complex characters set against one of the most dramatic times in our nation’s history, OUR MAN IN THE DARK is a timely exploration of morality, personal ambition, and the high cost of change.
“Most people let the beast in them run amok, John. And they merely shrug their shoulders at the damage left in its wake. America has let that beast run wild. I may not be morally perfect, but we are on the right side of morality. We need to remind America of its moral obligation to accept the struggle within itself.”
So says Martin Luther King, Jr in OUR MAN IN THE DARK, speaking to John Estem, one of his foot-soldiers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It’s the summer of 1964, and Estem is a downtrodden number-cruncher, a man with a polio-inflicted limp and only the dimmest hope of career mobility. Marginalized even by his fellow SCLC members, Estem desperately wants to contribute more to the movement than just his bookeeping skills. An outsider who longs for relevance, Estem is tormented by the things that are so close and yet out of reach: Money. Influence. The woman he loves.
And so one day, Estem decides to help himself to a ten thousand dollar donation check meant for the SCLC, and finds himself in the custody of the FBI. They not only know about the check, they have been watching him all along: If Estem wants to keep his theft from his fellow SCLC members, he needs to get the FBI the information they want: Specifically, any information that links Martin Luther King to the Communist Party. “This country is under attack,” they tell him. “Every day, foreign interests threaten to unravel the very fabric of American society. This is a matter of national security.”
But it’s not just Communism the FBI is after, but King himself. And in this endeavor, they are not alone: Estem soon finds himself caught between two forces trying to bring down Martin Luther King – the FBI, and Count. While both parties want MLK taken down for different reasons, they play equally dirty.
With OUR MAN IN THE DARK, Rashad Harrison delivers characters that are neither good nor evil but a provocative combination of everything that makes us human. As their actions bring consequences the reader never anticipates, they beg the question: Is a great man defined by his weaknesses, or his strengths? OUR MAN IN THE DARK is a tautly plotted story that in the end reminds us that the more things change, the more things stay the same: The greatness of our country is limited only by our endless willingness to judge and destroy those who dare to dream of change and progress.
About the Author
Rashad Harrison’s writing has appeared in Reed Magazine, and he was a finalist for the Alexander Patterson Cappon Award in Fiction from New Letters Magazine. He has taught creative writing at New York University and, during the presidential campaign, he was a contributor to MedicineAgency.com, an online journal of political and cultural commentary. He recently received an honorable mention for the Gulf Coast Magazine Fiction Prize, and was shortlisted for an Editor’s Prize from Carve Magazine.
Harrison earned a Master of Fine of Arts in Creative Writing from New York University, where he was a Jacob K. Javits Fellow. He also attended post-baccalaureate writers program at Columbia University. He lives in Chicago. For more information, you can visit his website, HERE Or, you can visit him on Facebook, HERE!