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The Shakespeare series consists of five novels in the “cozy” crime genre by Charlaine Harris, who lived in Arkansas for many years. Shakespeare and Bartley, the fictional Arkansas towns where the novels are set, resemble several small communities in the state, and Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Memphis, Tennessee, are both referred to as conveniently nearby.
Like other books in this genre, these novels do not focus on police procedure or the reasoning of a genius detective. Instead, a lay person, generally a woman, investigates and solves a crime, sometimes with the help of a police officer or other trained investigator. In order of publication, Harris’s Shakespeare novels are Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996), Shakespeare’s Champion (1997), Shakespeare’s Christmas (1998), Shakespeare’s Trollop (2000), and Shakespeare’s Counselor (2001). The novels were reissued beginning in 2004.
The central character is Lily Bard, who runs a cleaning and odd-jobs business. She lives in a small house on a residential street beside an apartment house. Lily becomes involved in the lives of many of Shakespeare’s residents. For example, Shakespeare’s champion bodybuilder, the crime victim in the second novel, worked out in the gym where Lily spends many hours in intense physical exercise and martial-arts classes. Her preoccupation with fitness and self-defense is the result of a horrific assault she suffered in Memphis four years before she moved to Shakespeare. That experience left her physically and emotionally scarred and socially isolated. Despite her low-status job and her irritable disposition, men find her attractive and she is friendly with the town doctor (a woman about her age) and women in her gym classes.
In the second novel, Lily meets Jack Leeds, a disgraced former Memphis policeman. Now a private detective in Little Rock, he is working on a case implicating some of Shakespeare’s leading citizens in white-supremacist skullduggery. The two become lovers as well as crime-solving partners.
In Shakespeare’s Christmas, the third novel, Lily Bard returns home to Bartley to participate in her sister’s wedding. The small-town, eastern Arkansas setting is peopled with Lily’s friends and kinfolk, many still uncertain how to confront Lily’s ordeal.
Shakespeare’s Counselor is the last of the Lily Bard novels. Since the series was only moderately successful, Harris, developed other, more lucrative series, settling on the “Southern vampire” theme and “urban fantasy.”
Most genre novels, whether romances, crime fiction, or vampire stories, are not widely reviewed in the mainstream press, but they are discussed at length in the blogosphere and on the Internet. Harris is one of the most prolific and financially successful genre novelists, with many bestsellers to her credit. In addition to print and electronic books, she has produced a graphic-novel series, and Shakespeare’s Landlord was adapted as an interactive game. Some of her books have been adapted for television. Harris, a native of Tunica, Mississippi, lived in Magnolia (Columbia County) for many years and later moved to Texas.
For additional information:DeCandido, Grace Anne. “Hooked on Cozies or, You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” The Booklist 96 (May 1, 2000): 1599.
Hall, Robert L. “Cozies with Teeth!” 2004. Southern Scribe: Our Culture of Storytelling. http://www.southernscribe.com/zine/authors/Harris_Charlaine.htm (accessed January 2, 2018).
Ethel C. Simpson University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Last Updated 1/2/2018
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