Coming Out Can Be Murder by Renee James
Author: Renee James
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Chicago / Murder Mystery / Hate Crime / Transgender Women / Hair Dresser)
Publisher/Publication Date: Windy City Publishers (6/1/2012)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: Oh yes -- this was a must-get-to-the-end-before-I-go-to-sleep read!
One-sentence summary: A transgender woman finds herself seeking the killer of a friend in Chicago.
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it captures the thematic elements of the book and reminds me a bit of old school murder mystery covers.
I'm reminded of...: Achy Obejas
First line: She coos the words in his ear, her voice oddly androgynous, neither fully feminine, nor distinctly male.
Did... I rave about this book so much my wife took it out of my hands the moment I was done?: YES! At least she waited until I was finished this time!
Is... this is an exciting murder mystery for anyone, even though unfamiliar with the trans community?: YES! James uses Bobbi's transition to help the reader understand Bobbi's life and experiences as a transwoman, and I don't think readers will be intimidated by not 'knowing' about transgender folks.
Do... I want to go to Chicago after reading this book?: YES! I love Chicago and books like this make me super excited to visit it again and/or move there.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you're a murder mystery fan:
Why did I get this book?: I love Chicago, I do like a good murder mystery now and then, and the unique premise of this book got me from the start.
Review: This is another book my wife tore out of my hands because I gushed too much, too soon. We both adored Achy Obejas' short story "Destiny Returns" from Chicago Noir and this book reminded me greatly of Obejas' story: the wonderful use of place and the bright light shone on the experience of those on the margins of society. James' novel is about a transgendered hairdresser, whose personal life is already emotionally tumultuous -- she's working on coming 'out' wholly as a woman without, hopefully, losing her job -- when she learns that a friend, another transgender woman, is brutally murdered.
Concerned that police aren't moving on solving the murder, Bobbi tracks the man believed to be the murdered, and unsurprisingly, this leads Bobbi into some serious danger. The story flips between Bobbi's first person account and the murderer's life, and it's chilling (delightfully, deliciously, angry-making-ly). This is a political thriller in some ways, unintentionally, but by virtue of the fact that the murder of a transgendered woman is often under-reported in media and poorly investigated. I loved that nuance to this story -- the violent death of anyone is horrible but James really lifts up the fears and anger from a community that often has to watch silently as society ignores the violence they face.
I loved the characters and James' writing, and Bobbi passed my I-want-her-to-be-my-bestie test. She's smart and funny, nervous and bold, scared and surprisingly strong, and very real. She's also a sexual person with desires and lusts, and James doesn't hide that. There's some sex (PG-13ish, I'd say), and some romance, and I loved it all -- and I was really delighted that James doesn't hide Bobbi in anyway. The secondary characters were just as appealing as the main characters, and again, I was so taken with the mix of crime and social/political commentary.
This is a fantastic murder mystery -- don't be scared off by the focus on the transgender community. Even if you're unfamiliar with what 'transgender' means isn't a problem as James provides context and explanation. As Bobbi goes through the process of coming out as a transwoman and what that means, James brings the reader along the whole time, and I dare anyone not to be moved.
I am so eager to see James' next endeavor, and I kind of hope Bobbi shows up again. She's a heroine I'm rooting for, and James' Chicago is a place I want to visit again. Give this book a try, especially this summer: this is a fun, quick-but-meaty murder mystery that is engrossing from the first page to the last.