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 underappreciated and overlooked, John Estem, a bookkeeper for Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), steals ten thousand dollars from the organization. Originally planning to use the money to seed a new civil rights initiative in Chicago, he squanders the stolen funds. 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. The FBI offers Estem a stipend, but in case he has any thoughts about refusing the assignment, they also warn him that they know about the stolen money. Playing informant empowers Estem, but he soon learns that his job is not simply to relay information on the organization. Once the FBI discovers evidence of King's sexual infidelities, they set out to confirm the facts to undermine King's credibility as a moral leader and bring down the movement. 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.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is ripe for a noir thriller. Being on the right side of history doesn't mean there isn't drama behind the scenes. In "Our Man in the Dark," John Estem is an underdog, a man with a limp from polio, an accountant left on the periphery— and resentful of it. When he embezzles from the organization, the FBI pounces, and they have a new informant. Our antihero struggles through a moral maze for the rest of the story.
J. D. Jackson is perfectly cast as the narrator. He brings an emotive delivery that has you, too, looking over your shoulder.
I love that this Civil Rights Era thriller is ambiguous. There are bad guys on both sides and it's as noir as they get. Egos get bruised, pride stands in for wisdom, and everyone has something to hide.
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