Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison

Title: Our Man in the Dark
Author: Rashad Harrison

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1960s / Southern US / Civil Rights Movement / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Government Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria Books (11/15/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loooved. Fabu way to kick off 2012!
Did I finish?: Yes -- I couldn't stop myself!
One-sentence summary: Set in 1963, an accountant with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. becomes an FBI informant in an effort to prove his patriotism and improve his own life, and ends up in gr
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- it fits the mood of the story perfectly!

I'm reminded of...: Lawrence Block, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley

First line: Night has come, and so have the shadows that once pulled me in against my will.

Did... I keep thinking about this book every time I had to stop reading and be all sociable with my family?: YES. Thankfully I love them, so I only resented them a little bit that I had to stop.

Did... I immediately shove this book in my wife's hands, despite her pre-planned vacation reading queue?: YES. I'm dying to chat about this book with someone, and I know she's going to love the ambiance and the deliciously complicated main character.

Do... I adore Rashad Harrison's website?: YES. Check it out -- has the same delicious feel of the novel. I can't wait for his future works!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this is a fabu debut novel!

Why did I get this book?: I love noir so the noir-ish elements of the story immediately intrigued me, and I loved the setting.

Review: 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!


  1. See, I'm sorry now that I passed this one up! You make me excited about this book, and I am thinking of trying to get to it when I have a chance! Wonderfully enticing review today!

  2. Sounds fantastic - and I'm always a sucker for a complicated main character (especially when that character is a fellow accountant!). Thanks for the review.

  3. @Heather: do, do try to get this. It was sooooo good!

    @Brooke: As an accountant I suspect you'd find this esp engrossing. I highly recommend it!

  4. Great writing, great story, and great characters? It's like a trifecta!

    So glad you loved it! Thanks for being on the tour.

  5. I love noir! It's rare to find a good contemporary writer of noir, so I'm definitely looking this one up. You hooked me from the start!

  6. Hooray! I pre-ordered this one for my Kindle but haven't managed to read it. I'll be sure to get to it this month. So glad you liked it!

  7. This sounds incredible, and I love the quote. The voice snaps with attitude. Congrats to the author!

  8. I went back and forth about whether or not to review this book and chose not too...ugh! I went with All the Flowers in Shanghai...silly me!

    This book sounds fantastic with the Civil Rights Movement aspect and all the noir-ish elements!

    Fantastic review, Audra! I'm putting this on my wishlist!

  9. this sounds excellent. I just finished up War Horse and loved it...and it counts for the WWI challenge I'm hosting with Anna at War Through the Generations.

  10. Wow, sounds like a powerful start to the year. I loved how you said your wife wanted you to congratulate her, and all you wanted to do was read -- that's a sign you've got the right book in your hands!