The Closet Case by Tawanna SullivanThe Closet Case by Tawanna Sullivan is a mystery involving an ex-girlfriend, a church at the center of a community, and people hiding their true selves and the first book in the Girl Trouble Mystery series.

Sharice Wilkins is trying to grow her part-time web design service into a full-time business to save her struggling bank account. Splitting rent with her friends, Debra and Gina, helps, but it doesn’t leave much for “hanging out” money.

When her ex-girlfriend, Renee, recommends her for a job designing a website for Hope Reborn Baptist Church, it kicks up old feelings she has for Renee. Their relationship was short-lived. Renee was living firmly in the closet to protect her standing as the prima choir soloist within her church. She dumped Shanice out of the blue.

Shanice needs the work, so she agrees to meet with Pastor Robinson and his wife Barbara. They’re interested in more than a website. They believe Renee is blackmailing them with compromising pictures of Barbara with another woman. They want Sharice to deliver a warning to the temperamental diva. Sharice agrees, but when Ms. Barbara turns up dead before Sunday service, everything begins to spiral out of control.

Will Sharice be able to navigate gossip and suspicion to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again?

The Characters

Shanice is truly the main character as this book is not a romance. She’s smart and curious with an unshakable need to do the right thing. She only takes the job with the church because she needs the money. She’s skeptical of religious institutions, but once she meets the pastor and his wife, she reluctantly decides to help them out. She’s still not over her ex-girlfriend so a part of her wants to believe that Renee has nothing to do with the threats towards the leaders of Hope Reborn Baptist Church. If Renee is involved, she wants to get her to back off before everything blows up.

Unfortunately, once Shanice gets involved the situation does spiral out of control. She never would’ve guessed she was walking into a murder mystery, yet she stays committed to solving the crime. She’s got a deep sense of duty and doesn’t want anyone else turning up dead.

Her housemates, Gina and Debra, have significant roles in the story. They’re Shanice’s confidants, her touchstones and without them she’d probably come undone. Gina is down to earth and works for a local non-profit that supports the LGBTQ community. Debra is a player with a penchant for concocting a good scheme. There’s definitely some chemistry between those two, and I’d love to see them solve a mystery on their own.

The Writing Style

The book moves along at a good pace. I loved how Sullivan lead me in different directions and kept me guessing. Clues pop up left and right, and I kept thinking, “Oh they did it,” and I was never right. The interplay between the three housemates feels very authentic, and I appreciated how they support each other. They may not agree with what Shanice is getting herself into, but they are there to back her up. I enjoyed meeting all the ancillary characters, and Sullivan had me invested in solving this mystery and bringing closure to everyone involved.

My Favourite Parts

There’re a couple things about The Closet Case that made this mystery fresh and unique. As the title implies, there’re several LGBTQ characters in the book who are living firmly in the closet. Let’s see, there’re five if I’m not mistaken. I’m not giving away anyway any spoilers, but the main reason Sharice and Renee broke up was because Renee is closeted with no desire to come out. This works for Renee, but as the reader meets more characters who can’t or won’t live authentically, it really becomes clear that hiding their true selves has taken a toll on their lives. They find love when they can, but they’re always looking over their shoulder to make sure their secret stays intact.

Sullivan creates a rich world that centers around Hope Reborn Baptist Church. She makes it clear how a church can become the hub of a community. There are pros and cons to this. The gossip is never ending and at times the hypocrisy is blatant, but at the core it shows how a church can anchor a neighborhood. There’s comfort to be found within the halls and sanctuary and there’re good intentions behind most everything that goes on. As with any large family, there’s going to be bickering, but on the whole there’s a deep sense of love and support amongst the parishioners.

Heads Up

Nothing to report.

The Conclusion

I enjoyed this mellow murder mystery. (Clever alliteration!) There’s nothing about it that made me afraid of things that go bump in the night, and Sharice is a clever protagonist. I liked how she approached the investigation. She’s a good person and even though she knows she should steer clear of the whole mess; she’s compassionate and wants to help. I liked seeing people brought together to uplift their souls and support each other. This made for a low-key couple of nights of reading and sometimes that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Excerpt from The Closet Case by Tawanna Sullivan

They did slow down until there were on the steps of the house next door. “This is part of the church?”

“Yes. Our building is big, but so is our congregation.” The doorknob turned easily in his hand. Full of beanbag chairs, throw pillows, and sofas, the living room looked extremely comfortable. “Some of our smaller groups meet here and, after school, we have activities for local youth. Third floor is mostly storage. Children’s Sunday school is on the second floor.”

In the second-floor classroom, they found a desk and chairs arranged in a haphazard circle waiting for students to arrive. There was no teacher. Pastor Robinson was confused. “She’s obviously been here.” He pointed at the blue bucket on the desk. “She washed the blackboard.” Shanice noticed pamphlets scattered across the floor. Her gaze followed them to a pool of crimson spreading from beneath the desk. “Look.”

“Barbara!” The pastor ran to the front of the room and stopped cold. His mouth opened as if to gasp, but no sound came out.

Approaching from the other side, Shanice saw Barbara Robinson in a crumpled heap on the floor. Instinctively, she thought to take the woman’s pulse but quickly drew back when she saw the deep gash in her head.

Pastor Robinson fell to his knees and pulled the body into his lap.

Shanice fumbled getting her phone and was momentarily stunned by a flash. A cavalcade of young voices forced her to regroup. She reached the door in time to keep three rowdy girls from entering. “There’s no class today.”

The children struggled to see around her. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Shanice pushed them away from the room. “Everything is okay, but we need an usher. Tell everyone class is canceled.”

A little girl with braids grinned. “No class? It’s the first time I got what I prayed for!”

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About the author

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Victoria is a native of Southern California where she lives with her fantastic family. Victoria traded in a career in the television and film industry to become a speech therapist to work with special needs kiddos like her younger daughter. Her passions include film history, Cate Blanchett, neckties, dismantling the patriarchy, and Cate Blanchett. She doesn’t eat mushrooms because they are gross and She prefers dark over milk chocolate. Victoria never leaves the house without her Kindle and she will work for books.