Last month I finished A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes and upon closing it purchased The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. What these two books have in common is their discussion of America’s status as an incarceration nation. If you are young, black or brown and poor, our current criminal justice system is likely stacked against you. Camryn King takes a fictional look at this very real problem in her novel Stiletto Justice.
Life was perfect. Kim Logan had a good job, a loving husband and a talented, winsome son headed toward football glory. One night changed all that. Her baby boy, Kendall, is now serving ten years on drug possession charges in spite of there being no solid evidence or witnesses against him. A zealous district attorney had convinced the court her law-abiding child presented a menace to society. His latest appeal has been denied, and Kim has no idea where to go from here.
Jayda Sanchez had been looking at a wonderful future that disappeared with the boom of a judge’s gavel. Her fiancé had a good job, she had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl and her family was in the midst of planning Jayda a big wedding. Then Nicky, her boyfriend, was locked up for gang banging when in fact all he had been doing was buying a car.
Erotic dancer Harley Buchanan hasn’t had it easy but she’s always been a fighter. Her mom’s cancer has been her greatest challenge but with access to some quality medicine and the support of her boyfriend Jesse, Harley was convinced they had a strong chance of beating it. Then Jesse robbed the bank he worked for in an effort to pay for an experimental treatment for her mom. When the owner learned why Jesse had committed the crime, he was willing to let Jesse pay the money back and lose his job; he didn’t want him prosecuted for his theft. However, a politically ambitious district attorney, determined to build a reputation as being tough on crime, refused to let it go. Jesse is now a guest of the Kansas Correctional System.
A successful middle class mom. A working class girl. A stripper. They would never have met if not for WHIP (Women Helping Innocent Prisoners). But one thing is sure – the esteemed Senator from Kansas, former District Attorney Hammond Grey, will regret ever having been the instrument of their introduction.
There were a lot of things I appreciated about this novel. One of the biggest was the character of Kim, with whom I strongly identified. A middle class mom, trying to juggle husband, work and son, she becomes a fierce social justice warrior after her boy’s incarceration. I loved the way the author shows her trying to balance the life she should be leading – dinner with friends, focus on career, enjoying the benefits of empty nesting – with the reality of having a child in prison. She also uses this character to bring some balance to the tale; when Kim and her husband meet with a neighbor who is a staunch Trump supporter and an advocate of ‘law and order’, she realizes that friendships can exist without everyone seeing eye to eye on all the issues.
I also loved the way the author spotlights prisons for profit, a controversial problem that receives far too little attention from the media. Part of our burgeoning criminal system is being fueled by the fact that there are companies making money from our full penitentiaries. If Ms. King can shine even a little light on that dark secret, it will be a job well done.
I also appreciated the character of Bobby, who represents the positive side of our police force. While the book does deal with crooked cops and purchased politicians, it shows that not everyone in those professions are on the wrong side of the law.
The text is not perfect, however. The prose can be choppy and amateurish at times and the use of deus-ex-machina is prevalent throughout the story and the plot, especially towards the end, is patently unbelievable. I enjoyed the book, though, and found it interesting and intriguing, enjoyable and informative – all in one neat package.
Stiletto Justice won’t be for every reader. Those who read purely for escape might not want to delve into a book which puts some ugly realities front and center. For those who enjoy fiction that tackles difficult subjects however, you aren’t likely to find a more relevant book than this one.