In the wee hours of the morning, Clay Robinette, formerly a disgraced reporter, now a happily married, happily tenured black professor, is awakened by a phone call.
The caller is Reggie Brogus, a famous black militant who, after a mysterious seven-year exile, remade himself into a fire-breathing conservative professor. There's a dead body in Reggie's office, and he's sure it's the work of government agents looking to frame him for his radical past. He needs help, trusting Clay's wry sense of humor and famous cool head to get him out of trouble. But Clay, dragged out of his bed into the winter night, recognizes the victim -- Jennifer Wolfshiem, a.k.a. Pirate Jenny, Clay's student and, for a brief time, his mistress. Knowing he too might be implicated in Jenny's death, Clay tries to cover up his knowledge of the murder: he gives Reggie a ride out of town, goes home and gets back to bed, and falls asleep as though the whole episode was a nightmare. But when he wakes up in the morning, his life slowly, inexorably begins to fall apart.
Dragged into the investigation in spite of himself, Clay knows he must unmask the killer before he becomes the prime suspect. Was Brogus the killer after all? Was the murder indeed linked to the FBI and a long-ago counter-intelligence operation? Or is the killer someone closer to home, with a sterling reputation and a hidden sadistic streak? Part whodunit, part social satire, If 6 Were 9 is a funny, fast-paced thriller filled with vibrant characters, unexpected plot twists, and provocative ideas about the complexities of race and politics in America.