Black (Daydreams & Diaries, 2014, etc.) tells the tale of an unlikely government agent attempting to foil a German plot during World War II.
Thomas Burk is not your average chauffeur from Banner Lake—the poor, African-American community that produces domestic servants for the rich white citizens of Florida’s Jupiter Island. He’s a self-educated man and a veteran of the first world war, where he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Merit for his valor in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Back home, however, in 1942 Jupiter, Burk keeps his education to himself: “in Florida, a smart colored man was a dangerous colored man.” Yet he might be just the man to serve his country again—this time in a covert role. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is afraid that there may be a German spy ring active in Hobe Sound, Florida, and he asks Thomas—via Thomas’ brother, Walter, a White House steward—to be his eyes and ears in the area. Thomas soon uncovers a plot, helmed by a dangerous nephew of Nazi Rudolf Hess, to assassinate Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., but simply revealing the conspiracy turns out not to be enough. Roosevelt wants Thomas to foil the plan, a dangerous mission that will never be publicized, in a country where member of the African-American community are treated as second-class citizens. The novel contains the classic elements of historical fiction, including celebrity cameos (Burk initially works for famed playwright Philip Barry) and significant historical events playing out in the background. There are a few issues that may keep the book from being taken very seriously, however: the premise is a bit unbelievable, the machinations are a little convenient, and Black’s attempts to ground the story in the context of the civil rights movement (including a coda involving Harry Tyson Moore and the Groveland Boys rape trial) are a little unwieldy. Yet it still successfully communicates the racial hypocrisy of America in the 1940s, reminding readers that Germany wasn’t the only country with an abysmal human rights record. Politics aside, Black delivers a fast-paced spy novel featuring an unusual protagonist with complex motivations.
An often entertaining espionage
thriller set against the racial dynamics of 1940s America.