Though the cover blurb suggests otherwise, there’s hardly any mystery to Coming Out Can Be Murder. Author Renee James dispatches the climactic moment with a minimum of suspense—wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. It’s what constitutes “ma’am” that forms the book’s real theme: protagonist Bobbi Logan is, like James herself, a transgender woman. They also share similar professional interests. James is a licensed cosmetologist, and Bobbi a hairdresser.

Bobbi’s friend Mandy is murdered at the outset, in the first of a number of lurid vignettes written from the point of view of the killer—a high-powered Chicago attorney who also happens to be a depraved sexual predator. The violence is cheesy, but it would feel even more gratuitous if it weren’t of a piece with the frank style James applies to everything. Some of Coming Out’s more illuminating passages relate the intense emotional, social, and physical challenges of gender transition in minute, compassionate detail.