This is the first of a dark but “cozy” mystery series by the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books that is set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. The main protagonist, Lily, wanted to pick up and start her life over, and settled on this town because her last name is Bard.
Lily, thirty-one, was the victim of a sensational kidnap, slashing, and rape case in Memphis four years previously. She now seeks a quiet life where she hopes she can live anonymously. She cleans houses, does errands for the elderly, and takes self-defense classes three times a week. She works out at both a gym and at home, trying to dispel some of her anger and fear, and eager to become someone who could never again be successfully attacked by anyone. At night, she takes long walks before she can go to sleep without frightening dreams.
When Lily, on one of her walks, sees a body dumped in the park close to her house, she fears that telling the police could bring too much attention to her and result in everyone finding out about her past. Thus, she decides to try to solve the crime herself, and of course, almost gets killed in the process. But in addition, she finds she can actually get close to a man again, as she begins tentative relationships both with her teacher of goju karate, and with the chief of police.
Evaluation: This is the first in a series of books about Lily Bard, whom Harris portrays with a keen and compassionate sense of the psychology of victims of sexual abuse crimes. Like other women in Harris’s books, Lily is tough but eminently likeable. Neither violence nor sex is portrayed with gratuitous details, and in spite of some dark aspects, this book feels light and warm. It also has a full complement of the eminently realistic eccentric characters with whom Harris peoples her books. Reading a book by Charlaine Harris is like meeting with your favorite neighbor in a small Southern town over coffee and cookies in her kitchen and having a cozy chat with lots of juicy gossip. I look forward to reading other books in the series.