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Robert Justice Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

They Can't Take Your Name (2021)Description / Buy at Amazon

Robert Justice

A native of Denver, Colorado, Robert Justice has given us his first novel, They Can’t Take Your Name. Named a runner up for the 2020 Sister’s in Crime Eleanor Taylor Bland Award, it is intended to be the first of a series of crime novels.

This novel is based on very real world issues, the pervasive injustices; the consequential issue of wrongful convictions that is prevalent in the United States. According to Mr. Justice, 2,500 men and women, with a total of twenty-one THOUSAND YEARS of their lives lost, have been exonerated of their wrongful convictions.

The criminal justice system has about a 98% rate of correct, justifiable convictions. It’s an impressive rate unless you are the 1-2% of people wrongly convicted and incarcerated. An estimated two-and-a-half MILLION persons are incarcerated. That means, on any day, even with the tiny 1-2% wrongly convicted, an average of 375 thousand citizens are erroneously incarcerated.

When asked if an innocent person has been executed, Mr. Justice responds, he’s not aware of a verifiable case, but pointing to the history of vigilante justice and lynchings in the United States coupled with the thousands that are wrongfully convicted, “it’s reasonable to suspect it has happened.”

His novel, They Can’t Take Your Name”, uses fiction to shine a strong, harsh light on this issue. The protagonist, Langston Brown, has been accused of a gruesome Mother’s Day massacre and has been convicted and is sitting on death row. Like most wrongfully convinced people, he has very little ability to fight it from his cell in the prison. His hope for salvation is with his daughter, Liza.

A wrongful conviction doesn’t affect only the prisoner. There is a ripple effect that reaches out. In Langston’s case, his daughter Liza, who was attending Julliard School, leaves there to pursue a law degree. It’s the only way she can see to really be of any help to her father. As she gets close to getting her law degree it is announced a date has been set for her father’s execution. She has a seemingly impossible 30 days to get his conviction overturned.

Langton’s obviously wrong conviction flies in the face of the facts of the case. The biggest discrepancy in the case is every single one of the witnesses to the massacre said the perpetrator was White. That alone should have been enough to clear Langston. But as frequently happens, simply being a Black man is enough to throw good evidence out and throw all the suspicion on the man.

A crooked detective with his own agenda will make the Black man’s claim of innocence fall on deaf ears. The addition of a politically ambitious governor who decides to move all executions quickly forward creates the tension. The governor ignores the fact that all the drugs in storage to create the deathly execution cocktail are expired and not easily or quickly replaced. He wants all the persons on Death Row to die as quickly as possible.

Liza enlists the help of Eli Stone, whom she met at his Five Points jazz club venue. While Eli struggles with his own sorrows, he agrees to help Liza with her quest. He is able to recruit many residents of the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, a historically Black area, to get the necessary information to clear Langston’s name. They are up against a 30-day deadline.

Mr. Justice’s story is a complex one of race, the toxicity of corruption and politics, and the actions of good and bad Black people as well as good and bad White people. He talks about “dreams deferred”- how injustice through racism alters a life. The trajectory of plans for fulfillment and happiness is crushed by those who are too powerful and corrupt.

Writing about the horrible, seemingly hopeless plight of the Black person isn’t a new postulation. Mr. Justice makes it his own by including poetry of Langston Hughes, plucking Hughes’s particular ideas of fairness and justice to demonstrate the novel’s premise. This addition allows us to be involved without feeling like we are guilty and culpable. We observe, we care, but we can read it and walk away.

Mr. Justice’s other planned novels will focus again on wrongly convicted Persons of Color. Liza, at the end of They Can’t Take Your Name, takes a job with an innocence project group, and she says “I’m going to find them.” Mr. Justice will deliver their stories to the world.

For part of the storyline, Mr. Justice documents for us true accounts of horribly botched executions. The delivery is factual, not sensationalist, and shines a harsh light on one of the many weaknesses of the criminal justice system in the US. It’s obvious the system is broken. Transformation, not just reformation, is needed. A huge number of the mass incarcerated need the kind of help not available in today’s system. The fact is, prisons are largest mental health facilities for the mentally ill.

Mr. Justice hosts a podcast called Crime Writers of Color. CWoC was founded in 2018 by members who are united to present their voices as a group of crime/mystery writers who are underrepresented of ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. The CWoC is loosely organized without elected leaders or bylaws, it is an informal group where individuals express their own opinions.

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