The reissues of Charlaine Harris’ early work continue with the second instalment of the Lily Bard series. Originally released in the US in 1997, Shakespeare’s Champion continued the adventures of Lily Bard which began in 1996’s Shakespeare’s Landlord. Running from her tragic past Lily thought she’d found the perfect place to keep her head down and rebuild her life when she moved to Shakespeare. Unfortunately what she didn’t realise is the small town has enough of its own secrets and she’s getting pulled into the midst of them all.
Following on from the murder of her landlord in the first book, Lily finds herself begrudgingly having to investigate the mysterious death of Del Packard, a man who frequents her gym. When she opens up one morning she finds him dead, crushed by a barbell. As she tries to extract herself from the investigation, she soon realises its futile as it appears to be linked to a series of racially motivated crimes that are affecting the whole town. As the divide between black and white residents widens, Lily gets caught in the middle putting her own life in danger.
Shakespeare’s Champion continues the tone set by Harris in Shakespeare’s Landlord. Lily, like Harris’ most famous heroine Sookie Stackhouse, finds herself drawn to trouble and being fought over by various men. In this book Lily appears to have moved on from the previous novel and come to terms with the town knowing about her past. As the book opens she’s questioning her relationship with karate instructor Marshall whilst fending off the advances of her friend, neighbour and policeman Claude. As the book progresses she finds another potential suitor forcing her to make some difficult decisions.
In terms of the central mystery, this one is crafted a little tighter than Shakespeare’s Champion. The plot doesn’t get bogged down with establishing the characters meaning Harris can just get on with telling her story. It’s interesting to see that the central theme, that of racial hate crimes, is still sadly so relevant today. The incidents that Harris describes we still read about day-after-day and it’s so sad to see that we haven’t moved on as a society all that much in nearly 20 years. As always with Harris’ novels there are plenty of red herrings and you end doing a little detective work yourself as you try to figure out who was behind the murder of Del.
Shakespeare’s Champion is a better read than Shakespeare’s Landlord. It feels that Harris was a bit tighter with her story this time around delivering a real page turner. Sometimes the book gets a little bogged down in the detail of Lily’s job or karate classes but overall it feels more streamlined. Whilst we still maintain that Lily Bard’s stories aren’t a patch on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, we are still enjoying them enough to want to carry on reading.