The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Sporting a shaved head, black rumpled jeans, and positive-message T-shirt, Lorenzo Council is the local boy who, at age forty-seven, has made good and remains committed to his old neighborhood. He has a good job and three grandchildren, has been the subject of a write-up in the local newspaper, and has appeared on a local television talk show. Yet his relative triumph over alcohol, drugs and poverty, his “tireless presence” in Armstrong, and his “social ability to bat from either side of the plate” are offset by a failing marriage, a son in prison, and an inability to stem the tide of violence and despair in the projects. Worse still, his work on the case further strains his relationship with a community he wants to protect rather than punish. Despite his commitment to “Darktown’s” residents, he feels increasingly marginalized by community activists and sympathetic toward Brenda Martin. He also comes under increasing pressure either to solve the case or hand it over to the FBI, a move that will further erode his credibility and effectiveness while simultaneously making the racial situation even more volatile:Every facet of the investigation seemed to elude his grasp. Military occupations, civic demonstrations, wrongful arrests, civilian search parties, baby-sitting journalists, outraged families—he seemed unable to control or prevent any of it.

The “baby-sitting journalist” is Jesse Haus, street reporter for the Dempsy Register. She at first seems nothing more than a frustrated ambulance chaser, more interested in getting copy than in finding the truth, who capitalizes on the story she wrote about Council to gain access to Brenda Martin. Once she has this access, however, she finds herself in a moral quandary not unlike his. She has a job to do and a career to think about,...

(The entire section is 741 words.)