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Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison


“Harrison is an excellent writer. His prose is strong and assured and elegant… His stories are mysterious and powerful.”
— Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man, and creator of the HBO series Bored to Death“Our Man in the Dark is an amazing story, amazingly told…This is an ambitious novel that wraps its powerful arms around what it means to be an American. Bold, rhapsodic, and daring, Rashad Harrison has written a morally engaged masterpiece.”– Darin Strauss, author of Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, and the award winning Half a Life

Our Man in the Dark is gripping, filled with historical detail that puts the reader in the middle of the fight for civil rights. Harrison’s memorable characters, most of them morally challenged, pop off the page…his tale of intrigue and betrayal will keep you reading, always wanting more.”-Charles Salzberg, author of Swann’s Last Song

“The dark conclusion descends into powerful moral ambivalence about love, loyalty and family. Harrison’s debut novel contemplates a nightmare inside a dream.”-Kirkus Reviews

“…explores the volatility of social change and the frailties of the human condition…successfully demonstrates that fiction can use the past to comment on issues of contemporary concern…An entertaining work of historical fiction with a touch of the noir; readers who enjoyed Don DeLillo’s Libra will appreciate.”-Library Journal

“Draws the reader in like metal shavings to a magnet.” —New York Journal of Books

Our Man in the Dark is smart, snappy and fascinating. As the child of civil rights activists, I applaud Rashad Harrison’s wonderfully written debut and his examination of how an ordinary man ended up on the wrong side of history.” –Tananarive Due, author of My Soul to Take and Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights

Our Man in the Darkis an amazing story, amazingly told. Intrigue and sadness, race and Government, Dr. King and the FBI, foibles and loyalties — this is an ambitious novel that wraps its powerful arms around what it means to be an American. Bold, rhapsodic, and daring, Rashad Harrison has written a morally-engaged masterpiece.”–Darin Strauss author of Chang & Eng, The Real McCoy, and the National Book Critics Circle Award winning memoir Half a Life

“Rashad Harrison is one of the finest young writers I’ve come across. Our Man in the Dark, is gripping, filled with historical detail that puts the reader smack in the middle of the dark days of the fight for civil rights in the ’60s. His memorable characters, most of them morally challenged, pop off the page and his tale of intrigue and betrayal will keep you reading, always wanting more.”

— Charles Salzberg, New York Times Book Review and Esquire contributor, and author of Swann’s Last Song

“What a great voice [Rashad Harrison] is employing here…utterly assured, smart, witty, and incisive…the writing is strong and clear and dead on. What an invention John Estem is as a character….Most impressive is Estem’s deadpan, quietly understated narrative voice throughout…a cool, low tone that is extremely compelling…. He unfurls one revelation after another—about himself, King, the SCLC—as if his store of them is boundless, each more outrageous (and natural sounding) than the last. What an amazing story…and what an incredible amount of inventive energy [Harrison] is displaying. It’s brave and brilliant to bring Dr. King into the story as both icon and man—especially the latter—and to do it with such verve and ease.”

— Nicholas Christopher, author of The Bestiary, Veronica, and Somewhere in the Night

“[Harrison] is an excellent writer. His prose is…strong and assured and elegant and also quite beautiful when it needs to be. His stories are mysterious and powerful.

–Jonathan Ames, author of The Extra Man, and creator of the HBO series Bored to Death


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.

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 Martin Lurther king days of the 1960’s that’s the timeline you are transported to in this novel. An outstanding work involving history, corruption, G-men, mobsters, klux klan and the Martin Luther King.
The main protagonist a black male one who started out as an accountant for Martin Luther King’s circle, he gradually climbed the ladder and had as the choice of pickings for company, the FBI, a black mobster, the trusted inner circle of the MLKing and one lovely beauty of a singer. This story is more than just the behind the scenes of King’s office, it’s has a noir thriller feel a throwback to the writings of Hammett and especially James M.Cain. A compelling story Its gripping and written with some real style of writing I like. It is a first person narrative and does not waste a word. Murder, racism, love and money. The men lust for women and money and the main protagonist is just desperate to win the heart on one lady thats off limits.There’s plenty of heart here and human mistakes set in a time of struggle, it is shocking at times the spin involved and the mistakes that Luther King and the mvement made. Stephen King has done so well with his time travel novel 11.22.63 involving some history from the days of Kennedy and here Rashad Harrison has done so well representing the Martin Luther King days. The story ends at the well known Fall of King. This is one you are bound to like.

“You don’t owe him nothing,” he says. “What, you think you and him are friends? You think you’re some type of civil rights leader? You’re not with them-you’re with me . Me and you are the same. That’s you’re problem, little man, you don’t realise your’e one of us. You still got yourself caught up in some bourgeois Negro dream. You want to be an accountant, a respectable member of the Negro community. Nice car. Nice house. You dream of a day when you can walk down the same side of he street as a white man and he’ll tip his hat at you as if you were the same as him, that shit won’t happen. There ain’t no place out there for you as some Negro professional. You bourgeois Negroes still believe in fantasy of a black paradise, where all the businesses and banks are Negro, and the money is Negro too. That’s a dream. All the assets of all Negro banks combined can’t match a country bank in Kansas. Look around you. Open your eyes. You throw cocktail parties society parties, and debutante balls, and you speak proper English, hoping that a white man will look at you one day and say, ‘you know what? These darkies ain’t so bad.’ It won’t happen. Stop believing in fantasies. There’s only one Negro business, and that’s vice. I’m talking dope, liquor, gambling, and pussy. That’s big business, little man. That’s how a nigger makes some real money In a white man’s world. That’s how you get your pockets stuffed. Real money, not this fake shit you motherf***** chase. Meanwhile, I’m over here making real money, providing real services. My customers come to see me with confidence. They can relax, because they know I’ll be here night after night. When they put down there money for a good time, they’re investing in their sanity. I don’t know what you Negroes belvedere in, but it’s a f***** dream. I don’t mean to be so hard on you, little man. I understand you’re motivations. Even though we have different approaches, we want the same things. I’m just trying to show you the right way to do it. You’ve got to think realistically.”
“Thank you for your candour, Count. Maybe you’re right. You’ve given a lot to think about. But I need a chance to work it over.”

“Look at my back.” He removes his shirt and shows me a patchwork of scars across his shoulder blades. “A white man did this to me when I was a boy. Caught me trying to steal chickens to feed my family. I still thank him for it, though. Changed my life. ‘Cause that’s when I learned to stop trying’ to make it in this world- I learned I have to make my own. You are in my world. I am a hunter, and boy, you are scarin’ the game away. You know what that mean? You taking food out of my mouth! You causin’ me to starve. And starvin’….that’s a slow death. Is that what you want? You want me to die a slow death?” He folds his shirt neatly on the table. He then grabs his pistol and cocks it at my temple.”Is that what you want? For me to die slow? Cause I don’t wish that on you. I want you to die quick as hell.”

“when you talk to Martin, he’s engaging and effervescent. His mastery of such an array of weighty subjects and his interest in you can be both impressive and overwhelming at times. He be blind not see how much people expect of him. Even the innocent of interactions demand that he charm, impress, and enlighten and prove himself worthy of such adulation. But when the conversation’s over, and the spotlights of admiration are dimmed or cast elsewhere, I can almost see him fading, moving through the SLC like a gauzy semblance of his public self.
For him, danger lurks everywhere. It was this way from the beginning, but he seemed to be aware of the romantic quality of his adventures, accepting his responsibility to the movement like some gallant knight savouring not only the victory but also the significance of the battle. You can see it in the footage that accompanied his arrival on the national stage, in that first mug shot following his arrest in Montgomery, or when the police officers slammed his shoulder into the counter of a booking station right in front of Coretta-there’s still a roguish glint in his eye. Like the photos of World War II vets broken, beaten, bloody, but smiling from the scorched rubble of Gothic ruins.
Something changed after Harlem. He must have looked down at that blade in his chest, it’s ornament handle snapped off and staining the autographed copies of Stride Toward Freedom with his blood, and thought how trivial it is to put your life on the line for a book signing. No blistering water hoses or prodded dogs and their angry masters, no marchers, no protesters-just an endless parade of stargazers. Yes, after that, he was different. Every day every hour, every second-all of it was borrowed time.”


Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 18 November 2011

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