Maybe if I took this step by step it wouldn’t be so bad? I glanced over at the still figure on the bench. No way to ease up to this. I’d just plunge right in.
“Del Packard is here, and he got squashed,” I said.
This is Charlaine Harris’ second Lily Bard book, but can be read as a standalone. The strength of the series builds with each one, with the complex and scarred Lily having more emotional impact with every instalment, and the town as big a character as the protagonist (as always in Harris’ stories). Having burning out and taking a break from this author after the craze started by television show True Blood, I was so happy to rediscover the wonderful, quirky small town mysteries Harris produces.
This is not the best entry in the series but I cannot pinpoint exactly why it isn’t a five star read. There is nothing in particular that’s wrong with it; I just think there are other Charlaine Harris and other Lily Bard books that are better – more entertaining, more engrossing. The story is slow to get going, but once it takes off I couldn’t put the book down.
It is astounding I can relate to a protagonist like Lily, and it is a testament to Harris’ writing of cosy yet troubled characters and dark close-knit community situations that she can draw me into these books so completely. Lily is, for want of a better description, trying her best to be a ‘She-Man’. She lifts well over a hundred pounds at the gym every morning and takes karate in the afternoon – in fact in this book her friend is trying to convince her to enter a bodybuilding competition. She has a brutal haircut and no skills in dealing with other people – other women in particular it seems.
Yet Lily’s a product of her experiences, and after being cut up and raped by a gang some years ago, she is a very different and very guarded woman who struggles with her femininity. She cleans houses for a living, in a town far from her family. And while she’s existing, she doesn’t make any steps to connect with others or to pursue any dreams she might have had in the past. She secretly wants more from life, but has no people skills to go about getting it. Though this is the second book in the series, it is the one where Lily’s equally troubled and yet extremely appealing love interest – Jack – is introduced. He is the first man she meets who has no plans to change her to fit his idea of a lover or a wife. Together they can acknowledge things are far from perfect, but they are two damaged souls who click.
The mystery in this instalment is centred about race relations in Arkansas. Harris’ understanding and experience of small town Arkansas politics and attitudes allows her to create a fascinating community. It’s certainly a shot of culture shock reading this story, and it is helps the reader that Lily and Jack are outsiders just like us, arriving on the scene and trying to fit into the complex community. What I love about Charlaine Harris’ books is that one moment everyone can be sitting around drinking iced tea and chatting about nothing in particular, and the next a church is being blown up and locals are going on a rampage. There’s a real sense that craziness can happen anywhere and everywhere.
The best thing about this book is Harris’ writing style. Her slightly sarcastic, always quirky writing is charming and gets the point across with little effort. This isn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but I was entertained all the same.
This is not the best Charlaine Harris book out there. Nor is it her best Lily Bard book. But it is well-written and entertaining, and despite the slow start, works its way up into a very satisfying instalment by the end. Shakespeare’s Champion is a good cosy, small town mystery, but with the complex characters it’s also something more.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Shakespeare’s Landlord
- Shakespeare’s Champion
- Shakespeare’s Christmas
- Shakespeare’s Trollop
- Shakespeare’s Councelor
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