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Shakespeare's Landlord

Shakespeare's Landlord

4.1 240
by Charlaine Harris

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Welcome to Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily Bard came to the small town of Shakespeare to escape her dark and violent past. Other than the day-to-day workings of her cleaning and errand-running service, she pays little attention to the town around her. So when she spots a dead body being dumped in the town green, she's inclined to stay well away. But she was in the


Welcome to Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily Bard came to the small town of Shakespeare to escape her dark and violent past. Other than the day-to-day workings of her cleaning and errand-running service, she pays little attention to the town around her. So when she spots a dead body being dumped in the town green, she's inclined to stay well away. But she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and despite her best efforts, she's dragged into the murder case. Lily doesn't care who did it, but when the police and local community start pointing fingers in her direction, she realizes that proving her innocence will depend on finding the real killer in quiet, secretive Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's Landlord is the first book in Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard mysterious series.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Lily Bard Mysteries , #1
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Read an Excerpt

Shakespeare's Landlord

By Charlaine Harris

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1996 Charlaine Harris
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10727-5


I gathered myself, my bare feet gripping the wooden floor, my thigh muscles braced for the attack. I stepped forward on the ball of my left foot, pivoting as I moved, and my right leg swung up, bent at the knee. My foot lashed out, returned instantly. The black Everlast punching bag rocked on its chain.

My right foot touched down, and I pivoted lightly on the ball of that foot, my body oriented this time facing the bag. My left leg came forward to deliver a longer, harder, thrusting mae geri. I continued the kicking, the pivoting, alternating the side kicks with the front kicks, practicing my weaker back kicks, my breathing growing deeper but never losing its rhythm — exploding out with the kick, coming in deep with the retraction.

The bag danced on the end of its chain, swinging back and forth, requiring more and more concentration on my part to plant the next kick accurately. I was tiring.

Finally, I lashed out with my stronger right leg, using all my power, dodged the backswing, and struck seiken, my hand in a smooth line with my arm, my knuckles driving into the bag.

I had finished my exercise. Automatically, I bowed, as I would have if I'd had a live sparring partner, and shook my head in disgust at my own foolishness. I reached for the towel hanging on its appointed hook by the doorknob. As I patted my face, I wondered whether my workout had been enough; if I took a shower now and got in bed, would I sleep? It was worth a try.

I washed my hair, soaped and rinsed, and was out within five minutes. After I dried myself, I put mousse on my hair and stood before the mirror to fluff it out with my fingers and a pick; I had tucked the towel around me so I couldn't see my chest in the mirror.

My hair is short and light blond now. One of my few extravagances is getting it colored, permed, and cut at Terra Ann's, the fanciest hairdressing salon in Shakespeare. Some of my employers get their hair done there; they never know quite what to say when they see me.

Most bodybuilders consider a deep tan part of their regimen, but I'm pale. The scarring doesn't stand out so much that way. But I do get rid of excess hair; I pluck every stray eyebrow, and my legs and armpits are shaved smooth as a baby's bottom.

Once upon a time, years ago, I thought I was pretty. My sister, Varena, and I had the usual rivalry going, and I remember deciding my eyes were bigger and a lighter blue than hers, my nose was straighter and thinner, and my lips were fuller. Her chin was better — neat and determined. Mine is round. I haven't seen Varena in three years now. Probably she is the pretty one. Though my face hasn't changed, my mind has. The workings of the mind look out through the face and alter it.

Sometimes, some mornings — the ones after the really bad nights — I look in the mirror and do not recognize the woman I see there.

This was going to be one of those really bad nights (though I had no idea how bad it was going to get). But I could tell there was no point in going to bed. My feet itched to be moving.

I dressed again, throwing my sweaty workout clothes into the hamper and pulling on blue jeans and a T-shirt, tucking in the T-shirt and pulling a belt through the belt loops. My hair was only a little damp; the blow-dryer finished the job. I pulled on a dark windbreaker.

Front door, back door, kitchen door? Some nights it takes me a while to decide.

The back. Though I keep my doors greased so they swing back and forth almost noiselessly, the back door is the quietest.

The back door is directly opposite the front door, making my house a shotgun house; from my back door, I can look down the hall and through the living room, which occupies the width of the front of the house, to check to make sure the dead bolt is shot.

It was, of course; I am not one to neglect security. I locked the back door as I left, using another key to turn the dead bolt from the outside. I pushed the key down to the very bottom of my front pocket, where it couldn't possibly fall out. I stood on the tiny back porch for a minute, inhaling the faint scent of the new leaves on the climbing rose vines. The vines were halfway up the trellis I'd built to make the little porch prettier.

Of course, it also obstructed my view of anyone approaching, but when the first roses open in about a month, I won't regret it. I have loved roses since I was a child; we lived on a large lot in a small town, and roses filled the backyard.

That yard of my childhood was easily five times as big as this backyard, which extends less than twenty feet, ending abruptly in a steep slope up to the railroad tracks. The slope is covered with weeds, but from time to time a work crew wanders through to keep the weeds under control. To my left as I faced the tracks was the high wooden privacy fence that surrounded the Shakespeare Garden Apartments. It's slightly uphill from my house. To my right, and downhill, was the equally tiny backyard of the only other house on the street. It's nearly an exact copy of my house, and it's owned by an accountant named Carlton Cockroft.

Carlton's lights were off, not too surprising at this hour of the night. The only light I could see in the apartment building was in Deedra Dean's place. As I glanced up, her window fell dark.

One o'clock in the morning.

I silently stepped off my little back porch, my walking shoes making almost no noise in the grass, and began to move invisibly through the streets of Shakespeare. The night was still and dark — no wind, the moon only a crescent in cold space. I could not even see myself. I liked that.

* * *

AN HOUR AND a half later, I felt tired enough to sleep.

I was on my way home, and I was not trying to conceal myself anymore; in fact, I was being sloppy. I was using the sidewalk that borders the arboretum (a fancy name for an overgrown park with some labels on trees and bushes). Estes Arboretum takes up a block of definitely unprime Shakespeare real estate. Each of the four streets edging the park has a different name, and my street, Track, on the park's east side, is only a block long. So there's little traffic, and every morning I get to look out my front window and see trees across the street instead of someone else's carport.

I rounded the corner from the south side of the arboretum, Latham Street, to Track; I was opposite the little piece of scrubland that no one claimed, just south of Carlton Cockroft's house. I was not careless enough to linger under the weak streetlight at the corner. There is one at each corner of the arboretum, as Shakespeare's budget can't run to putting streetlights in the middle of the block, especially in this obscure part of town.

I hadn't seen a soul all night, but suddenly I was aware I was not alone. Someone was stirring in the darkness on the other side of the street.

Instinctively, I concealed myself, sliding behind a live oak on the edge of the park. Its branches overhung the sidewalk; perhaps their shadow had hidden me from the presence across the street. My heart was pounding unpleasantly fast. Some tough woman you are, I jeered at myself. What would Marshall think if he saw you now? But when I'd had a second to calm down, I decided that Marshall might think I was showing some sense.

I peered around the oak's trunk cautiously. In the middle of the block, where the person was, the darkness was almost total; I couldn't even tell if I was watching a man or a woman. I had a flash of an unpleasant recollection: my great-grandmother, in the act of saying, "Blacker than a nigger in a coal mine with his mouth shut," and embarrassing everyone in the whole family quite unconsciously. Or maybe not; maybe that little nod of satisfaction had not been over a well-turned phrase but over the pained looks she'd intercepted passing between my parents.

My great-grandmother would have stomped out to the middle of the street and inquired what the person's business was, quite assured of her own safety in doing so, too.

But I know better.

The person was pushing something, something on wheels.

Peering intently into the darkness, I tried to remember if I'd ever seen anyone out on my street before when I was up and wandering. I'd seen a few cars go by, residents or visitors of people in the apartment building, but I couldn't recall ever meeting up with anyone on foot in the past four years — at least in this part of town.

On the bad nights, when I ghost all the way downtown, it is sometimes a different story.

But here and now, I had something to worry about. There was something furtive about this odd incident; this person, this other inhabitor of the night, was pushing what I could now tell was a cart, one with two wheels. It had a handle in the middle of the longer side, and legs on it, so that when you let go of the handle and set it upright, it would be steady and straight. And it was just the right size for two thirty-gallon garbage cans.

My hands curled into fists. Even in the dark, I could identify the familiar shape of the cart. It was my own. I'd bought it at a yard sale from some people who were moving; the man of the house had made it himself.

It was loaded down with something wrapped in dark plastic, like the sheets you buy to put in flower beds to keep weeds down; I could see the faint shine off the smooth plastic surface.

I felt a rage I hadn't experienced in a long time. Something illicit was happening, and the cart thief was trying to involve me in it. The peace that I'd worked so hard to achieve was going to be ripped away, through no fault of my own. I could not confront this thief directly; that wouldn't make sense — the thief might be armed, and was obviously in the middle of doing something he or she wanted to conceal.

So I clenched my teeth, and watched and waited.

Across the rough surface of neglected Track Street, the thief trundled the garbage-can cart with its heavy burden; I could tell it was heavy because of the strain in the cart thief's posture.

This was absolutely eerie; I found myself shivering. I pulled the sides of my dark windbreaker together and, with a tiny sound, zipped it shut. With deliberate movements, I pulled a thin dark scarf from my pocket and tied it over my light hair. All the while, I was tracking the cart thief's laborious progress. The thief was heading for the park; I felt my lips twitch up in a smile as I observed the thief trying to get the cart from the pavement up onto the sidewalk. Wheelchair accessibility had not been a priority when those sidewalks were paved many years ago.

Finally, the cart bumped up onto the sidewalk and across it. The thief's feet had to hurry to catch up. Into the darkness of the arboretum, following one of the narrow paved paths, the thief rolled the loaded cart. I began to count seconds. In three minutes, the thief returned, still pushing my cart.

Now it was empty.

My anger was taking second place to curiosity, though that would only be temporary.

I watched the thief roll the cart up my driveway, barely making it through the narrow walk space between my car and the carport wall. The thief reappeared from the back of my house, walking quickly, and had to go down my driveway to the curb and then walk around the end of the fence to walk up the apartment building's south driveway. The thief circled around back; he or she would enter the building through the quieter back door; the front door squeaked. I always remember things like that.

I am in and out of that apartment building quite a lot.

Sure enough, the thief didn't reappear at the other side of the apartment building. It was someone living there, or the overnight guest of someone living there. With one single woman and four single men living there, overnight guests are not infrequent.

For a few more seconds, I hugged close to the trunk of the tree, waiting to see if a light would come on. From where I was, I could see the side windows on the south side of the apartment building and the front windows, too; no lights came on in any of them. Someone was being extra careful.

Well, I, too, would be careful. I waited five minutes, according to my digital watch, before I made a move. Then I went deeper into the arboretum, following no trail, moving as quietly as possible in the darkness. I'd estimated where I'd intersect the path; I was as familiar with the layout of the arboretum as I was with the floor plan of my house. I'd spent hours wandering Shakespeare by night.

It was so black in the thick of the trees that I wondered if I would even be able to find what the thief had dumped. If my jeans hadn't brushed the plastic, which emitted that typical dry rustle, I might have groped around the path for another hour.

But the second I heard that rustle, I dropped to my hands and knees. Patting around in the darkness, I discovered the wrapping was not plastic sheeting but two large garbage bags, one pulled from the top and another from the bottom to overlap in the middle covering — something soft and big. I poked the bag; there was something hard under the softness. Something bumpy. Something an awful lot like ribs.

I bit my lower lip to keep from making noise.

I struggled silently with an almost-overwhelming urge to jump up and run. After several deep breaths, I won. I steeled myself to do what I had to do, but I couldn't face doing it in the dark.

I reached into my windbreaker pocket and pulled out a narrow, lightweight, powerful little flashlight that had caught my fancy at Wal-Mart. I shifted in my squatting position so that my body was between the apartment building and what was on the ground. I switched on the flashlight.

I was angry at myself when I saw my hand was shaking as I separated the bags. I fumbled them apart some four inches and stopped. I was looking at a torn, rather faded shirt, a man's plaid shirt in green and orange. The chest pocket had caught on something; it was partially ripped from its stitching and a fragment was missing.

I recognized the shirt, though it hadn't been torn when I'd seen it last.

I worked the bag up a little at the side and found a hand; I put my fingers on the wrist, where a pulse should be.

In the chilly Shakespeare night, I squatted in the middle of the trees, holding hands with a dead man.

And now I'd left my fingerprints all over the plastic bags.

* * *

ABOUT FORTY MINUTES later, I was sitting in my bedroom. I was finally tired to the bone.

I'd taken the bags off the corpse.

I'd confirmed the corpse's identity, and its corpsedom. No breath, no heartbeat.

I'd worked my way out of the arboretum, knowing I was leaving traces but helpless to avoid it. My incoming traces were unerasable; I'd figured I might as well make a trail out, too. I'd emerged from the bushes on Latham and crossed the street there, well out of sight of the apartments. I'd gone from cover to cover until I circled Carlton Cockroft's house, silently crossing his yard to arrive in my own.

I'd found that the cart thief had replaced my cart and reinserted the garbage cans, but not as I'd had them. The blue garbage can was always on the right and the brown on the left, and the thief had reversed them. I'd unlocked my back door and entered without turning on a light, then opened the correct kitchen drawer, extracted two twisties, and lifted out and sealed the garbage bags already lining the cans. I'd relined the cans with the garbage bags that had been used to cover the body, then put the bagged garbage in them, sealing the second set of bags over the first set. I'd figured I couldn't examine the cart in the middle of the night, and wheeling it inside would have created too much noise. It would have to wait until morning.

I'd done all I could do to erase my own involuntary complicity.

I should have been ready for bed, but I found myself biting my lower lip. My bedrock middle-class upbringing was raising its strong and stern head, as it did at unexpected and inconvenient times. The mortal remains of someone I knew were lying out there in dark solitude. That was wrong.

I couldn't call the police department; possibly incoming calls were taped or traced in some way, even in little Shakespeare. Maybe I could just forget about it? Someone would find him in the morning. But it might be the little kids who lived on Latham. ... And then it came to me — whom I could call. I hesitated, my fingers twisting and untwisting. The back of my neck told me this was not a smart move. Get it over with, I told myself.


Excerpted from Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris. Copyright © 1996 Charlaine Harris. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

CHARLAINE HARRIS is a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area. In addition to the Shakespeare mysteries, she is also the author of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, the Harper Connelly mysteries, the Cemetery Girl mysteries, and the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series, which is the basis for the HBO show True Blood. Harris now lives in Texas with her husband.
CHARLAINE HARRIS is a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area. She is the author of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, the Shakespeare mysteries, the Harper Connelly mysteries, the Cemetery Girl mysteries, and the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series, which is the basis for the HBO show True Blood. Harris now lives in Texas with her husband.

Brief Biography

Southern Arkansas
Date of Birth:
November 25, 1951
Place of Birth:
Tunica, Mississippi
B.A. in English and Communication Arts, Rhodes, 1973

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Shakespeare's Landlord (Lily Bard Series #1) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 237 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This series is truly her best. I read the Sookie books and look forward to the next one, but this was deeper without the vampires. I read all five books in four weeks. I am sad their are no more.
bookmavenNY More than 1 year ago
I have read Charlaine Harris' Aurora Teagarden series, and I enjoyed it. I am still finding titles that I was unable to get before. So when I was at my local Barnes & Noble and saw this series about Lily Bard, I decided to try it. I loved this book, and went back the next day and bought the rest of the series that was available. (I had to order one.) Lily is an off-beat character with a dark history. I really enjoyed this series. It is very different from the Aurora Teagarden stories, but Lily is excellent in her own way. I enjoy the difference. I wish there were more of these stories!!
lilybardfan More than 1 year ago
This first book in a series by Charlaine Harris catches your interest and doesn't let go until the surprising end. Be prepared for a mystery take multiple turns and challenges your mind right up to the end. No paranormal charters proves Ms. Harris is able to take ordinary daily events and put them into a puzzle you will not soon forget.
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
3.5 out of 5 stars A great beginning to a new (for me) mystery series. I really enjoyed Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books, and these books promise to be good, too. The main character is Lily Bard, a person who is trying to hide from her terrible past. She has been living in the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas for four years when the landlord of the apartment building where she works as a cleaning lady is murdered. Lily becomes involved in the hunt for the murderer, and thus sets the stage for the story.  I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised about many parts of this book. I was expecting a cozy mystery, something similar to Murder She Wrote or the Crossword Lady books. Instead I got something a bit more complex, with a protagonist that was more Kinsey Milhone (from Sue Grafton's Alphabet series) than Jessica Fletcher. I liked that Lily is a strong, though damaged woman, fighting the demons of her past. In fact, I was surprised by Lily's past as I was not expecting a character with so much baggage. To me that makes her a more interesting character to read about. In addition, there were a few other characters that I am excited to keep tabs on in the future.  In addition, the plot of the story was solid with enough innuendo and red herrings to keep me guessing. In fact, I did not guess who the murderer was at all, and when Harris revealed the perpetrator and the motive, I was definitely surprised. In fact, most of my friends who have read this book have said the same thing. The fact that Ms. Harris is able to craft a mystery that actually surprised me with it's ending is a selling point and has solidified my resolve to read the rest of the series.
KrissieTN More than 1 year ago
Lily is a harder character than Sookie or Aurora. The series is well written with Ms. Harris's signature dash of lovable rascals, and sneaky villains, and wry humor. I do love the flattering light that the author paints the south with. I am a southerner, I love the authentic southern characters, and cultural quirks. This series starts out with Lily trying to get by, and be unnoticed. A dark past haunts her, and she is desperate for a sense of normalcy. Since this is a mystery though she finds herself pulled into something, and her past is revealed to the small town she lives in.
The-Mish More than 1 year ago
Really love the character and the town that this book is set in. Glad its one of a series. Will be reading the next one!
timothyreads More than 1 year ago
Charlaine Harris consistently delivers good mysteries. This one does not disappoint. I can't believe she stopped writing this series nearly ten years ago. I hope she picks it up again! I also hope Barnes and Noble will e-publish the last two books.
Trewbeliever More than 1 year ago
This is the last Charlaine Harris' series I found. Don't judge this book by the synopsis on the back cover - Lily Bard is brave,complicated and battered by life but still empowered and moving ahead. I really appreciate how Charlaine Harris' writes the characters in all her books - especially the wommen. None of the central characters are typical or stereotypes. I have now read all the Lily Bard books and recommend them highly. Definitely sorry to finish the last one .I kept them all to read again.
Anna_Louise More than 1 year ago
This is a quick read and enjoyable. Not like the Sookie Stackhouse series however the main character is dark with a past and likeable. The Lily Bard series will be great for reading at the beach and snowy days! If you liked the Sookie Stackhouse series, you will like this series without the vampires.
Logans_Library More than 1 year ago
This novel is a far cry from Ms. Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, which I loved for their light and spritely dialog, and their fanciful and fun mileau. This book is neither light nor spritely, nor is its mileau fanciful or fun! Its story is disturbing, and Ms. Harris' language, pacing, and,"punch" (pun intended) are appropriate for the its topic and its message. Every woman should read this book if only to know what to "watch out for", and maybe to know how to "handle and respond to" violence against women. Sure....not every woman will be violated, but who's to say it won't happen to you? Read this book and become aware and prepared, just in case! The life you save may be your own!
katford11 More than 1 year ago
I am a big Charlaine Harris fan, and this book did not disappoint. I really enjoyed reading it. Lily Bard is intriguing, mysterious, and full of faults... I liked the book.
2319 More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to actually get into this book. Now that I have finished it, I can't quit thinking about the rest of the series. It isn't the best book I have ever read, but someone Charlaine Harris was able to get me hooked.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book it made me feel empowered and got me back into the gym. For women who value our strength this book is a must read.Lily becomes the familiar acquaintance that you always wish you knew better. This series is incredible and difficult the murders almost seem an excuse to learn more about Lily. Lily's tenacity and strength make her an invaluable heroine. Lily has a past that is haunting for weeks after reading the book and her recover transpires as she grows into her new comunity in Shakespeare.
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