Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime Mystery, 1997
Mystery; 214 pgs
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: I gathered myself, my bare feet gripping the wooden floor, my thigh muscles braced for the attack.
Reason for Reading: I enjoy reading Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series and decided to branch out and try her Lily Bard mysteries. This is one of my selections for the Southern Reading Challenge.
Comments: I was not quite sure what to expect when I picked up Charlaine Harris’ Shakespeare’s Landord. Maybe I thought I would find myself reading a cozy little mystery set in a small Southern town. What I got, however, was a darker, more edgy mystery set in that small Southern town, which was even better. Some readers, including the author, have called the author’s Lily Bard series a cozy mystery series with teeth.
Lily Bard is a woman with a secret. She left behind her old life to get away from painful memories. With her hair cut short and dyed, often wearing baggy clothes, all in an effort to disguise herself, Lily wants nothing more than to keep a low profile and live her life in the small quiet town of Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily, working as a cleaning woman and doing odd jobs for her clientele, finds the body of her former landlord on a late night stroll through her neighborhood. When Chief of Police, Claude Friedrich begins digging for suspects, Lily’s past makes her a suspect. She becomes determined to find the killer herself, hoping to preserve some of what she had built in that small sleepy town of Shakespeare.
The novel is full of colorful characters from the elderly but astute Mrs. Hofstettler to the spoiled Deedra Dean. As their cleaning lady, Lily probably knows more about them than they know themselves, including some of their secrets.
It is Lily herself that adds the edge to this mystery. She is tough as nails, a karate expert, sarcastic and a bit antisocial. She does her job, keeps her mouth shut and leads a relatively safe and peaceful life, which suddenly changes with the murder of the landlord. Lily begins to wake up from the fog she’s been living in, realizing she is a part of the world, that people notice her, care about her, and maybe she can still live rather than just merely exist.
With its southern charm and easygoing atmosphere, Shakespeare makes the perfect setting for Charlaine Harris’ novel. It adds gentleness to the story while at the same time revealing the rough edges under the surface. Small town gossip may flourish, but there’s a genuine friendliness and concern for each other, almost everyone looking out for each other.
Shakespeare’s Landlord is only the first in the Lily Bard mystery series, and I definitely plan on stopping by Shakespeare again. Charlaine Harris continues to be one of my favorite series’ writers.
Favorite Part: I most enjoyed following Lily around while she went about her various jobs. It was through that method that readers get a close up and personal glimpse into many of the characters of the novel. Bobo Winthrop and the condom incident had me chuckling out loud. Mrs. Hofstettler was full of southern charm and I enjoyed the moments spent with her. I got the impression that she has a little spitfire left in her despite her health problems. Chief Friedrich was another of my favorite characters. He was always such the gentleman.
Note about the Author: Charlaine Harris is a born and bred Southerner, having been raisd in the Mississippi Delta and now calling southern Arkansas home. Check out the author's website for interviews, a biography and bibliography.