Friday, December 29, 2006

Shakespeare's Champion - Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare’s Champion
A Lily Bard Mystery
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


All Del Packard wants out of life, aside from maybe marrying his girl someday, is to be a bodybuilding champion. He’s honored to be representing Shakespeare, Arkansas in an upcoming competition. Last year, he came in second; this year, he’s working even harder, and is confident of a first place finish. Since he uses every spare moment to work out, he’s convinced Marshall, the owner of the gym, to give him a key. He’s the last one there one evening, waiting for a spotter to arrive. The next morning, Lily arrives at the gym to find Del, dead on the bench, his throat crushed by the barbell.

At first glance, it looks like a tragic accident. But some things just don’t make sense. First, who would want to kill easy-going, slightly dense Del? There’s also the strange fact that there are no clear fingerprints on the barbell. At the very least, Del’s should have been there. And, if Del was there alone, at night, and dropped the barbell onto his own neck, who turned off the lights? It’s clear that someone else was there, and that someone killed Del.

Soon after Del’s death, racial tensions, hidden for decades (according to an old-timer, it’s been seventy years since the last lynching) bubble to the surface of the small town. A gym regular says he doesn’t feel welcome; an epithet is spray-painted on a car; a woman of mixed race asks Lily, in all seriousness, if her heritage will be a problem in their working relationship. When evidence turns up possibly linking Del, a white man, to the mysterious unsolved deaths of two black men, those tensions may tear apart the town that Lily has come to call home.

Lily is a fascinating character. She came to Shakespeare to heal, physically and emotionally. While her wounds are now scars, there are still emotional scars and issues she deals with on a daily basis that mean she leads a more or less solitary existence. She’s not an easy person to know. But she is plain-spoken, and has a mind that can cut through to the heart of an issue. The mystery starts out as a straightforward homicide, but eventually widens to become something much different. In a small town, where most people are interconnected, that’s often the way of things.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21310-2 (paperback, reissue)


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