Review: By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl

By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erin McCabe and Duane “Swish” Swisher, criminal defense attorneys, are asked to defend a Black transgender woman accused of murder. Erin is a white transgender woman, and Swish, a longtime friend, is black. The accused, Sharise Barnes, considered a male by the prison authorities, is being held in protective custody at a male prison.

While the novel deals with the range of issues faced by transgender women—personal, interpersonal, and institutional—the book is no tract. The people are real and the issues are integrated well into a complex and compelling crime story.

The dead man is the son of the most politically powerful man in South New Jersey. Sharise maintains that she killed in self-defense when the dead man tried to murder her. Erin and Swish find evidence suggesting that the dead man has been involved in previously unsolved murders of transgender prostitutes, but they are blocked in their efforts to get the necessary DNA comparisons, a crucial component in their defense strategy. Meanwhile people connected to the case are dying.

Sharise struggles to be recognized as a woman by the legal system and by her parents, who consider her desire for a gender change as sinning against God’s will. Erin faces her own struggle to be accepted by her father and her brother. In addition she has to figure out how to relate to the man who becomes attracted to her.

The story is well-written. The main characters are real, the novel is well-plotted and persuasive. However, I found the fathers to be pretty much single-dimensional in their opposition to the gender changes of their sons-turned-daughters.

It is sometimes hard to keep track of who the various secondary/tertiary characters are. Given the complexity of the conspiracy involved, this may be unavoidable. But the story might have been easier to follow if it stuck to Erin’s point of view, eliminating scenes involving just the minor characters. Does the reader need to be privy to the bad guys’ machinations?

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