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I loved Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series of books featuring Sookie Stackhouse and all the other weird and wonderful inhabitants of Bon Temps. For those that haven’t read them give them a try as they are vastly superior to the True Blood TV show that is based on them.
After finishing the last book in the series I decided to try out some other Charlaine Harris novels and started with this one which is the first in her Lily Bard Mystery series. It was published in 1996 well before she enjoyed massive success with the Southern Vampire books and is a different kettle of fish entirely from those books.
There is nothing supernatural or urban fantasy about these books and instead are good old murder mysteries though with a darker edge than a lot of these small town set series.
The books follow Lily Bard who has moved to the small town of Shakespeare after a horrific and violent incident in her previous life and is trying to live a quiet and peaceful life as a cleaner. When she discovers the dead body of the landlord of the building she cleans she tries to stay out of it though of course she is soon dragged into the story and the mystery of who would kill him and for what reason.
The synopsis of this book makes it sound like every other murder mystery book around but what makes it different is Charlaine Harris’s ability to create a fascinating and flawed bunch of characters and you really feel as though you get to know them as the book progresses. Lily herself is hugely flawed but all the more relatable for it. She is tough and resourceful but because of what happened to her before she moved to Shakespeare she is vulnerable and keeps herself distant from all the other characters that also inhabit Shakespeare.
The mystery portion of the book works well and I found myself guessing right up until the end who the murderer could be and what were the motives for killing the landlord.
The reason that I think the book works so well is because of the writing of Charlaine Harris. Over the years she has become one of my favourite authors as she has a writing style which is completely her own. All her books have a lovely flow to them and you can just pick them up and read a chapter whenever you want. This one is no exception and although it is a murder mystery one of the joys of it is that it doesn’t spend the majority of the book discussing the murder and a lot of the time is spent just getting to know the characters and exploring the town of Shakespeare.
The mystery does have a satisfying conclusion to it and I was left at the end of the book looking forward to getting stuck into the next book in the series and finding out more about the enigmatic Lily Bard.
Let's get this out of the way right at the beginning. This book has nothing whatsoever to do with William Shakespeare. It's not written in Ye Olde English and there are no ruffed collars to be found. What it is is a very decent 'whodunnit' murder mystery in the style of M. C. Beaton but with a slightly darker edge. This is perhaps to be expected when you realise that it's written by Charlaine Harris, the best-selling author of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries series of books which were adapted for television as 'True Blood'.
I really like those novels but actually I think that I prefer this. One of the (few) problems that I have with the True Blood books is that the world they create is huge, sprawling, and populated with a huge amount of creatures. Sometimes you can get a little lost in that (admittedly brilliantly conceived) world.
The reason behind the book's title is that it's set in the small American town of Shakespeare and because it never ventures outside the town limits you get a chance to really get to know the place and its limited number of inhabitants. They're fleshed out much better than those in Miss Harris's more famous works and it seems a more intimate work because of it. It's like a gentle chat between author and reader.
The main character is a humble cleaner named Lily Bard (and that's where the Shakespeare reference end). She has moved to the small town to escape from her horrible experiences in the big city where she was raised. It's quite a way into the book before her secrets are revealed but when they are they are truly horrific. You can easily understand why someone in that position might want to leave everything behind and start again.
The trouble is that you can never fully leave your past behind. You carry it with you, and Lily is a deeply troubled person because of hers. She has trouble making friends, keeping her anger in check, sleeping... and it's this last problem that starts the book as she takes a late night walk and witnesses someone disposing of a dead body.
From therein it becomes a standard 'cosy crime' novel. I could easily imagine Agatha Christie's Miss Marple on holiday solving the same crime in the same location, although her techniques would be very different to Lily Bard's. Lily's only real release is her obsession with martial arts and she gets to put her training to good use when she's attacked on more than one occasion. I can't imagine Miss Marple taking on people with her secateurs while trimming her roses.
The story is, if I'm honest, quite so-so. It's as if the author set up a whole load of possible suspects and at the end picked one of them at random and worked a fairly weak resolution to make them guilty. But then again that summed up the vast majority of Miss Christie's work too and it didn't do her career any harm. What's most important in this book (as with Dame Agatha's) are the characters. Lily Bard is an utterly believable twenty-first century woman. Damaged but determined to keep going, one day at a time. That's how healing works and that's why Lily is in Shakespeare, to heal. But sadly her sudden involvement in the murder and consequently the police threaten to undo her hard work. And when it becomes apparent that someone in town knows her past, she has to fight to keep her anonymity and sanity.
As a murder mystery, it's as good as any other. I've read many many similar novels. But as a character study it stands head and shoulders above the rest.
==Synopsis of the book==
Lily Bard has had a traumatic life, but finally she is feeling settled in her in the small town of Shakespeare. However this is rudely interrupted when unable to sleep one night she goes out for a midnight stroll. She sees what appears to be a dead body being carted by a person she can't recognise in a bin and the person is dumping it in the park. Although not wanting to get involved with the Police she is not happy leaving the crime unreported.
The last thing she wants is her violent past being known in her newish home town. As she doesn't want to be regarded as a victim and pitied by everyone she comes into contact with. The dead man turns out to be her Landlord of the apartment she lives in and as such she like all the other residents are brought in for questioning. Lily has little against the nosy landlord Pardon Albee as he and several other tenants in the block use her for her cleaning skills. But she finds herself up to her neck in this crime and unable to slip unnoticed into the background.
==My thoughts on the novel:==
I thought this was quite an average crime mystery. I felt the story was quite slow and dull and only the greatness of the lead character made it a worthwhile read for me. This is in stark contrast to my previous experience of one of the novels from this series I really enjoyed. I think a lot of the problem was the same story was told about Lily Bard's past again. When I first heard it it was something incredibly horrible and immediately made me take to her. But telling it a second time was a mistake in my opinion. Maybe the author should have told it in this the first novel in the series and not the fifth as well. I think this time round it could have been hinted or alluded to rather than explained in detail again.
Charlaine Harris is one of my favourite mystery writers. I base this on her excellent Sookie Stackhouse supernatural series of books. However I have found her other series of stories frankly disappointing. I did however enjoy the first book I read in this series because in Lily Bard she has once again created a marvellous leading character who is so different from the norm but at the same time she is very easy to like and relate to. This novel was Lily's début and was first published in 1996. And having enjoyed the previous story I was very keen to read this one, so when I spotted it at a jumble sale I attended recently I knew I had to purchase it.
The novels title had me intrigued to start with as I found I was curious to know who was this Landlord? Was it Lily? What relationship did she have with this person? So I checked out the stories summary on the back cover. This for me was a little disappointing, it was just two paragraphs long. It told the reader about Lily's past being exposed for the first time and how she dreaded this all because of her discovering this dead body. I thought while this sounded interesting it did not draw me into the story as it shared little I did not already know about the lead characters life.
Yet the story started in an impressive and interesting way. As it followed Lily unable to sleep following the person with a dead body in the bin. This immediately had me wondering why the person was doing this, who it was and how this had happened. I felt involved and already knowing a lot about the lead character I understood why she did not want to get involved with the Police and be centre of attention. It was certainly a good start and despite being set in America with the different culture and lifestyle I did not find this an issue relating to either her or the situation she found herself in.
There were certain expects about the story and others I did not. For example I liked Lily's change of luck with men and thought she deserved some happiness having suffered the ordeal she had. And importantly I enjoyed her being at the centre of the investigation, with her knowing or working for all the suspects to the crime. However, I did not feel it was necessary to tell again her traumatic story again and as the story continued I found little seemed to be happening and there was nothing out of the ordinary or different happening within it. For me it slowly moved on and I was more interested in Lily's love life than the actual story.
It was only towards the end of the story that my interest returned. That was because I still wanted to know why this crime happened and who was the guilty party, so from that respect the author had hidden the details well and I had no clue who was responsible for it. So the conclusion was quite exciting and I liked the way it appeared unrushed and it was explained properly. With this being a Charlaine Harris suspense story I was never sure if there would be one last unexpected twist in the story.
As this is one concept I think the writer excels in. Yes sometimes you can see the twist coming but more often than not they come out of the blue and really add to the development of the story. In this book, there were a couple of good twists that added to the suspense and mystery within it. As a result you are never sure if the crimes are linked and carried out by the same person or unrelated and nothing to do with it.
I have already advised what I think about Lily Bard as a character. In this story I thought she was supported by some other interesting characters. And while a few I felt I needed to know more about it certainly added to the mystery about them. In some ways the story needed more depth about them and for me it would have benefited the story if it was a little longer. While a few of them I hope will continue to appear in future stories as they have good personalities and I feel they could be expanded and it would be good to know more about their pasts and their private interests.
In all honesty I do not think I can recommend this as a good piece of crime friction. The biggest draw back I found was the story was quite slow going and I felt similar to ones I have read in the past. There was nothing new or different to maintain my interest in it. Coupled with this was the fact the author shared Lily's past again with the reader and I didn't feel this added any value to the story and could have been told or even hinted at rather than explained in detail. Having had a good experience and a bad one here of this series of stories, I feel I need to try one more before I can give a definitive decision on this stories featuring Lilly Bard.
Price: 4.99 new at Amazon
Publisher: Gollancz fiction
ISBN-13: 978- 0575105256
Year of Publication: 1996
More about the author: www.charlaineharris.com
Thanks for reading my review.
This review is published under my user name on both Ciao and Dooyoo.
© CPTDANIELS July 2012.
After reading the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series entitled "Dead Until Dark" (see review), I realised that this author is an author for me, and that I should read more of her books, so thanks to bookcrossing.com I got this book and the 2nd book in the series, and found them both amazing! This is one author I shall frequently add on my wish list!
Charlaine Harris is soon becoming an author on my top 15 favourite authors, although there is no list around as of yet, I reckon I should make one soon, as there may be more than 15 in that list. She is a really good author, and so far I have read 3 books of hers which are: "Dead Until Dark", "Shakespeare's Landlord" and "Shakespeare's Champion", I have also read a short from her called "Tacky" which can be found in "My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding" anthology. I know that in the near future I would have read tonnes more of her books, as this is one author that I will always keep in my mind as her writing style is unique and that makes the book ever so gripping, that it's unbelievable.
I am going to copy and paste the book description from "Fantasticfiction.co.uk" because I cannot make a better plot outline than the one described!
"Lily Bard is a loner. Fiercely protective of her independence, she concentrates on her karate skills and her work as the proprietor of a cleaning and errand-running service, and pays little attention to the town around her. When her landlord is murdered, though, she looks like the prime suspect. Uncovering the real killer may be the only way to prove her innocence, and Lily realizes that she must focus on the other residents of tiny Shakespeare. Her job gives her easy access to people's private lives, and she begins to snoop, finding plenty of skeleton-filled closets, and exposing herself to the unwanted attentions of a murderer."
This is a pure relaxing kind of book; it is a "summer read" sort of book, one to take on holiday with you, where you can sit on the beach, basking in the sun, while reading the upper-most perfect detective / murder mystery book. Or you could just sit in doors with a fresh can of cool coke or something else, with a fan to keep you cool. This book is perfect anywhere and it is definitely one when you feel like you want to be somewhere else and escape reality for a little while!
This book is blatantly a detective / murder mystery book, put in the most perfect of settings. However some people would disagree and say that it's just like any normal book. And to some extent I would agree since the fact that the whole concept of the book makes you feel relaxed which usually makes this book perfect for everyone. But considering that the landlord is murdered it does actually make it into a murder mystery / detective novel. And if you hate those sorts of books it's best to keep away, but at least try reading a bit of it if you ever get the chance, you may even surprise yourself!
There is a lot of debate going around which says that Lily Bard is almost like Sookie Stackhouse, and although there are similarities, I have to admit that this is totally not true, considering they are two different people and they act differently and considering one has vampires in and the other doesn't, I really don't see many similarities, although, if you totally enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse series and you are looking for something else that you'll enjoy, this is definitely the book you should go out and buy! I'm currently trying to work out if any books are similar to this one, and to be totally honest, this book (along with the rest of the books in the series, I think) stand all by their selves. You could say that it is similar to a lot of detective novels, but the only books that come to my mind that are slightly similar are the point horror novels (which are teen fiction, whereas the Lily Bard series are adult fiction), so in theory it's pretty difficult.
I fully enjoyed this book, it was really interesting and if anyone knows of a place that is similar to Shakespeare (the town in the book) please let me know, as this is definitely the sort of place I want to live in, I think it's the sort of town most people want to live in to be honest! If you are looking for an easy book to get into, this is the book for you considering the fact that it had me gripped right from the start and I just couldn't wait to finish it as I wanted to know what was going on and what will happen. I totally found the ending fascinating and surprising, and I fully loved the ending! It is a pure fun read, and one I would love to re-read if given the chance!
Well that's all people; I hope I have helped you out, and thank you very much for reading and rating, thank you!