Our Man in the Dark
John Estem is an accountant apprenticing with one of the few black CPAs in the country in the 1960s. Even better, he’s working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with Dr. Martin Luther King. On the downside, his CPA boss is a bully, making fun of his brace and limp (the result of childhood polio) in front of Estem’s heroes — including Dr. King, Andrew Young, and Ralph Abernathy. Estem pilfers $10,000, and suddenly two white guys are tailing him. Next thing Estem knows he’s patriotically informing on his hated CPA boss to the FBI. Estem so wants to believe the agents, that his boss is a communist, a danger to the country and to Dr. King. If that were true, Estem would be a star; except that’s not the way it plays out, of course. Estem passes on information that allows the FBI to potentially sabotage the civil rights movement.
The book is a noir thriller, and so in addition to the FBI, corrruption, and civil rights heroes, there’s also seedy nightlife, gangsters, and beautiful women. The core of the story, though, is Estem’s understanding that he’s in the company of giants. “I never believed in humanity as he did,” Estem says of Dr. King.
Author Harrison couldn’t have been braver in his choice of a fictitious protagonist: a self-pitying, traitorous accountant — not an obvious candidate for a hero’s journey. Neither would a literary agent likely recommend writing about Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggles to stay faithful to his wife. That Harrison pulls it off — and with a debut novel, no less — is truly a testament both to his heart and to his writing talents.