Even before his 34th birthday, Professor Clay Robinette is a happily married, safely tenured black professor at a better-than-average university. So, of course, it’s at this point that his comfortable, carefully ordered world goes drastically topsy-turvy—that 6 becomes 9, as it were. The fateful call that rouses Clay past midnight is from Reggie Brogus, once a famous black radical, now an infamous black conservative who sounds panicked, in desperate need of a friend. In a weak moment, Clay makes the mistake of agreeing to be one. On a couch in Reggie’s office at the Afrikamerica department lies a strangled white student. A frame, swears Reggie. The federal government wants to discredit and silence him because he knows where the bodies are buried. But as Clay looks more closely at this particular body, he recognizes his illicit lover and realizes he’s about to become the prime suspect in her slaying. But who else had reason to kill pretty Jenny Wolfsheim? The militant black student who’s been stalking her? Government spooks, in the interests of the conspiracy Reggie Brogus claims is directed at him? Or is Brogus bogus, lying to hide his own culpability? Clay had better find out fast before those pointing fingers become a mailed fist.
Lamar (Closer to the Bone, 1999, etc.) does the social satire deftly, the whodunit a bit clumsily. But the real strength here lies in his often feckless, always candid, deeply unheroic hero, hollow yet irresistibly human.