In this Lily Bard mystery from #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris, Shakespeare, Arkansas’ favorite sleuth has to clean up after a clever killer.
Cleaning lady Lily Bard is a pro when it comes to keeping the exteriors of her small town absolutely spotless. But it’s the dirt below the surface that really keeps her busy. Even Lily herself has her share of secrets...
That’s why she’s joined a weekly group therapy session—to open up and finally face the past. That sounds positively enlightening, until the gruesome murder of a fellow member sends a terrifying warning. But which person in the group is the message meant for? Why? And who next will suffer the consequences of a killer’s head games?
About the Author
Charlaine Harris is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse and Midnight, Texas, fantasy/mystery series and the Aurora Teagarden, Harper Connelly, and Lily Bard mystery series. Her books have inspired HBO’s True Blood, NBC’s Midnight, Texas, and the Aurora Teagarden movies for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. She has lived in the South her entire life.
Date of Birth:November 25, 1951
Place of Birth:Tunica, Mississippi
Education:B.A. in English and Communication Arts, Rhodes, 1973
Read an Excerpt
I connected with a hard blow to the nose, rolled on top of him, gripped his neck, and started to squeeze. After the pain, the unfathomable humiliation, this rage was completely pure and good. His hands gripped my wrists, struggled to pull my fingers away. He was making noises, hoarse and pleading, and I gradually realized he was saying my name.
That wasn't part of the memory.
And I wasn't back in that shack in the cotton fields. I was on a firm wide bed, not a sagging cot.
"Lily! Stop!" The grip on my wrists increased.
I wasn't in the right placeor rather, the wrong place.
This wasn't the right man ... the wrong man.
I released my grip and scrambled off the bed, backing into a corner of the bedroom. My breath was coming in ragged pants, and my heart thudded way too close to my ears.
A light came on, blinding me for the moment. When I got used to the radiance, I realized with agonizing slowness that I was looking at Jack. Jack Leeds. Jack had blood streaming from his nose and red marks on his neck.
I'd done that to him.
I'd done my best to kill the man I loved.
"I know you don't want to do this, but maybe it'll help," Jack was telling me, his voice altered by the swelling of his nose and throat.
I tried very hard not to look sullen. I didn't want to go to any damn therapy group. I didn't like to talkabout myself, and wasn't that what therapy was for? On the other hand, and this was the decisive hand, I didn't want to hit Jack again, either.
For one thing, hitting was a terrible insult to the one you loved.
For another thing, eventually Jack would hit me back. Considering how strong he was, that was not an unimportant factor.
So, later that morning, after Jack left to drive to Little Rock to talk to a client, I called the number on the flyer we'd seen at the grocery store. Printed on bright green paper, it had caught Jack's eye while I was buying stamps at the office booth at the front of the store.
HAVE YOU BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED?
ARE YOU FEELING ALONE?
CALL TODAY 237-7777
ATTEND OUR THERAPY GROUP
ALONE NO MORE!
"Hartsfield County Health Center," said a woman's voice.
I cleared my throat. "I'd like to find out about the therapy group for rape survivors," I said, in as level a voice as I could manage.
"Of course," said the woman, her voice scrupulously neutral and so consciously nonjudgmental it made my teeth hurt. "The group meets Tuesday nights at eight, here at the center. You don't have to give me your name at this time. Just come in the end door, you know, the door that opens on the staff parking lot? You can park there, too."
"All right," I said. I hesitated, then asked a crucial question. "How much is it?"
"We got a grant to do this," she said. "It's free."
My tax dollars at work. Somehow that made me feel better.
"Can I tell Tamsin you'll be coming?" the woman asked. Definitely a local; I could tell by the number of syllables in "tell."
"Let me think about it," I told her, suddenly frightened of taking a step that would undoubtedly add to my pain.
Carol Althaus lived in the middle of chaos. I had dropped all but three of my customers, and I wished Carol had been one of them, but I'd had one of my rare moments of pity and kept her on. I was only cleaning Carol, the Winthrops, and the Drinkwaters, and Monday was the day I did all three. I went back to the Winthrops on Thursday, and I remained open for the odd errand or special cleaning job other days, but I was also working for Jack, so my schedule was complicated.
Carol's chaos was of her own making, the way I saw it, but it was still chaos, and I like order.
Carol's life had gone out of control when she'd married Jay Althaus, a divorced salesman with two sons. To Jay's credit, he had custody of his sons. To Jay's debit, he was on the road all the time, and though he may have loved Carol, who was anemically attractive, religious, and stupid, he also needed a live-in baby-sitter. So he married Carol, and despite all their previous experiences with the two boys, they had their own babies, two girls. I'd begun working for Carol when she was pregnant with the second girl, throwing up intermittently every day and sitting limply in a recliner the rest of the time. I'd kept all of the children for a day and a half, only once, when Jay had had a car wreck out of town.
Probably these children were not demonic. Possibly, they were quite typical. But collectively, they were hell.
And hard on a house, too.
Carol needed me to come at least twice a week, for maybe six hours at a stretch. She could afford four hours a week, just barely. I gave Carol Althaus the best value for her money she would find anywhere.
During the school year, it was nearly possible for Carol to cope. Heather and Dawn were still at home, only five and three years old, but the boys (Cody and Tyler) were in school. Summers were another kettle of fish.
It was late June, so the kids had all been home for about three weeks. Carol had enrolled them in four Bible schools. The First Baptists and the Central Methodists had already completed their summer programs, and the house was even more littered with paper fish and bread glued to paper plates, sheep made from cotton balls and Popsicle sticks, and lopsided drawings of fishermen pulling in nets filled with people. Shakespeare Combined Church (a fundamentalist coalition) and the joint Episcopalian/Catholic Bible schools were yet to come.
I entered with my own key to find Carol standing in the middle of the kitchen, trying to get the snarls out of Dawn's long curls. The little girl was wailing. She had on a nightgown with Winnie the Pooh on the front. She was wearing toy plastic high heels and she'd gotten into her mother's makeup.
I surveyed the kitchen and began to gather dishes. When I reentered the kitchen a minute later, laden with dirty glasses and two plates that had been on the floor in the den, Carol was still standing in the middle of the floor, a quizzical expression on her face.
"Good morning, Lily," she said, in a pointed way.
"Is something wrong?"
"No." Why tell Carol? Would she be reassured about my well-being if I told her I'd tried to kill Jack the night before?
"You could say hello when you come in," Carol said, that little smile still playing across her face. Dawn looked up at me with as much fascination as if I'd been a cobra. Her hair was still a mess. I could solve that with a pair of scissors and a brush in about five minutes, and I found the idea very tempting.
"I'm sorry, I was thinking of other things," I told Carol politely. "Was there anything special you needed done today?"
Carol shook her head, that faint smile still on her face. "Just the usual magic," she said wryly, and bent to Dawn's head again. As she worked the brush through the little girl's thick hair, the oldest boy dashed into the kitchen in his swimming trunks.
"Mom, can I go swimming?" Carol's fair complexion and brown hair had been passed on to both the girls, but the boys favored, I supposed, their own mother: they were both freckle-faced and redheaded.
"Where?" Carol asked, using a yellow elastic band to pull Dawn's hair up into a ponytail.
"Tommy Sutton's. I was invited," Cody assured her. "I can walk there by myself, remember?" Cody was ten and Carol had given him a range of streets he could take by himself.
"Okay. Be back in two hours."
Tyler erupted into the kitchen roaring with rage. "That's not fair! I want to go swimming!"
"Weren't invited," Cody sneered. "I was."
"I know Tommy's brother! I could go!"
As Carol laid down the law I loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen counters. Tyler retreated to his room with a lot of door slamming and fuming. Dawn trotted off to play with her Duplos, and Carol left the room in such a hurry I wondered if she was ill. Heather appeared at my elbow to watch my every move.
I am not much of a kid person. I don't like, or dislike, all children. I take it on an individual basis, as I do with adults. I very nearly liked Heather Althaus. She would be old enough for kindergarten in the fall, she had short, easy-to-deal-with hair since a drastic self-barbering job that had driven Carol to tears, and she tried to take care of herself. Heather eyed me solemnly, said "Hey, Miss Lily," and extricated a frozen waffle from the side-by-side. After popping it in the toaster, Heather got her own plate, fork, and knife and set them on the counter. Heather had on lime green shorts and a kingfisher blue shirt, not a happy combination, but she'd gotten dressed herself and I could respect that. In acknowledgment, I poured a glass of orange juice for her and set it on the table. Tyler and Dawn trotted through on their way out to the fenced-in backyard.
For a comfortable time, Heather and I shared the kitchen silently. As she ate her waffle, Heather raised her feet one at a time when I swept, and moved her own chair when I mopped.
When there was only a puddle of syrup on the plate, Heather said, "My mama's gonna have a baby. She says God will give us a little brother or a sister. She says we don't get to pick."
I leaned on my mop for a moment and considered this news. It explained the unpleasant noises coming from the bathroom. I could not think of one single thing to say, so I nodded. Heather wriggled off the chair and ran to the switch to turn on the overhead fan to dry the floor quickly, as I always did.
"It's true the baby won't come for a long time?" the little girl asked me.
"That's true," I said.
"Tyler says Mama's tummy will get real big like a watermelon."
"That's true, too."
"Will they have to cut her open with a knife, like Daddy does the watermelon?"
"No." I hoped I wasn't lying. "She won't pop, either," I added, just to cover another anxiety.
"How will the baby get out?"
"Moms like to explain that in their own way," I said, after I'd thought a little. I would rather have answered her matter-of-factly, but I didn't want to usurp Carol's role.
Through the sliding glass doors to the backyard (doors that were perpetually decorated with handprints) I could see that Dawn had carried her Duplos into the sandbox. They'd have to be washed off. Tyler was firing the soft projectiles of some Nerf weapon in the general direction of a discarded plastic soda bottle he'd filled with water. The two seemed to be fine, and I couldn't see any danger actually lurking. I reminded myself to check again in five minutes, since Carol was definitely indisposed.
With Heather at my heels, I went to the room she shared with her sister and began to change the sheets. I figured that any second, Heather would exhaust her attention span and go find something else to do. But instead, Heather sat on a child-sized Fisher-Price chair and observed me with close attention.
"You don't look crazy," she told me.
I stopped pulling the flat sheet straight and glanced over my shoulder at the little girl.
"I'm not," I said, my voice flat and final.
It would be hard to pin down exactly why this hurt me, but it did. What a senseless thing to waste emotion on, the repetition by a child of something she'd apparently heard adults say.
"So why do you walk by yourself at night? Isn't that a scary thing to do? Only ghosts and monsters are out at night."
My first response was that I myself was scarier than any ghost or monster. But that would hardly be reassuring to a little girl, and already other ideas were flickering through my head.
"I'm not afraid at night," I said, which was close to the truth. I was not any more afraid at night than I was in the daytime, for sure.
"So you do it to show them you're not afraid?" Heather asked.
The same wrenching pain filled me that I'd felt when I saw Jack's bloody nose. I straightened, dirty sheets in a bundle in my arms, and looked down at the little girl for a long moment.
"Yes," I said. "That's exactly why I do it."
I knew then and there that I would be at the therapy session the next night. It was time.
For now, I taught Heather how to make hospital folds.
I slid through the designated door the next night as though I'd come to steal some help, not to get it for free.
There were four cars in the parking lot, which was only partially visible from the street. I recognized two of them.
The side door we were to use was a heavy metal door. It slid shut behind me with a heavy thud, and I walked toward the only two rooms that were well lit. All the other doors up and down the corridor were shut, and I was willing to bet they were probably locked as well.
A woman appeared in the first open doorway and called, "Come on in! We're ready to get started!" As I got closer I could see she was as dark as I was blond, she was as soft as I am hard, and I was to find she talked twice as much as I'd ever thought about doing. "I'm Tamsin Lynd," she said, extending her hand.
"Lily Bard," I said, taking the hand and giving it a good shake.
She winced. "Lily? ..."
"Bard," I supplied, resigned to what was to come.
Her eyes got round behind their glasses, which were wire framed and small. Tamsin Lynd clearly recognized my name, which was a famous one if you read a lot of true crime.
"Before you go in the therapy room, Lily, let me tell you the rules." She stepped back and gestured, and I went into what was clearly her office. The desk and its chair were arranged facing the door, and there were books and papers everywhere. The room was pretty small, and there wasn't space for much after the desk and chair and two bookcases and a filing cabinet. The wall behind the desk was covered with what looked like carpeting, dark gray with pink flecks to match the carpet on the floor. I decided it had been designed for use as a bulletin board of sorts. Tamsin Lynd had fixed newspaper and magazine clippings to it with pushpins, and the effect was at least a little cheerful. The therapist didn't invite me to sit, but stood right in front of me examining me closely. I wondered if she imagined herself a mind reader.
I waited. When she saw I wasn't going to speak, Tamsin began, "Every woman in this group has been through a lot, and this therapy group is designed to help each and every one get used to being in social situations and work situations and alone situations, without being overwhelmed with fear. So what we say here is confidential, and we have to have your word that the stories you hear in this room stop in your head. That's the most important rule. Do you agree to this?"
I nodded. I sometimes felt the whole world had heard my story. But if I'd had a chance to prevent it, not a soul would've known.
"I've never had a group like this here in Shakespeare, but I've run them before. Women start coming to this group when they can stand talking about what happened to themor when they can't stand their lives as they are. Women leave the group when they feel better about themselves. You can come as long as I run it, if you need to. Now, let's go to the therapy room and you can meet the others."
But before we could move, the phone rang.
Tamsin Lynd's reaction was extraordinary. She jerked and turned to face her desk. Her hand shot out and rested on top of the receiver. When it rang again, her fingers tightened around the phone, but she still didn't lift it. I decided it would be tactful to step around the desk and look at the clippings on the wall. Predictably, most were about rape, stalking, and the workings of the court system. Some were about brave women. The counselor's graduate and postgraduate degrees were framed and displayed, and I was duly impressed.
The manifestly intelligent Tamsin had picked up the phone and said, "Hello?" as though she was scared to death.
The next thing I knew, she'd gasped and sunk down into the client chair in front of the desk. I abandoned my attempt to look like I wasn't there.
"Stop this," the therapist hissed into the phone. "You have to stop this! No, I won't listen!" And she smashed the receiver into its cradle as though she was bashing in someone's head. Tamsin took several deep breaths, almost sobbing. Then she was enough under control to speak to me.
"If you'll go on next door," she said, in a voice creditably even, "I'll be there in a minute. I just need to collect a few things."
Like her wits and her composure. I hesitated, about to offer help, then realizing that was ludicrous under the circumstances. I eased out from behind Tamsin's desk and out the door, took two steps to the left, and went into another.
The room next door was probably a lot of things besides the therapy room. There was a large institutional table, surrounded by the usual butt-numbing institutional chairs. The room was windowless and had a couple of insipid landscapes on the walls as a gesture toward decoration. There were women already waiting, some with canned drinks and notepads in front of them.
My almost-friend Janet Shook was there, and a woman whose face was familiar in an unpleasant way. For a moment, I had to think of her name, and then I realized the formally dressed, fortyish big-haired woman was Sandy McCorkindale, wife of the minister of Shakespeare Combined Church, known locally as SCC. Sandy and I had clashed a couple of times when I'd been hired by the church to serve refreshments at board meetings of the SCC preschool, and we'd had a difference of opinion at the Ladies' Luncheon, an annual church wingding.
Sandy was about as pleased to see me as I was to see her. On the other hand, Janet smiled broadly. Janet, in her mid-twenties, was as fit as I was, which is pretty damn muscular. She has dark brown hair that swings forward to touch her cheeks, and bangs that have a tendency to get in her eyes. Janet and I sometimes exercise together, and we are members of the same karate class. I sat down by her and we said hello to each other, and then Tamsin bustled into the room, a clipboard and a bunch of papers clutched to her big bouncy chest. She had recovered quite well, to my eyes.
"Ladies, have you all met each other?"
"All but the latest entry," drawled one of the women across the table.
She was one of three women I didn't recall having met before. Tamsin performed the honors.
"This is Carla, and this is Melanie." Tamsin indicated the woman who'd spoken up, a short, thin incredibly wrinkled woman with a smoker's cough. The younger woman beside her, Melanie, was a plump blonde with sharp eyes and an angry cast to her features. The other woman, introduced to me as Firella, was the only African American in the group. She had a haircut that made the top of her head look like the top of a battery, and she wore very serious glasses. She was wearing an African-print sleeveless dress, which looked loose and comfortable.
"Ladies, this is Lily," Tamsin said with a flourish, completing the introductions.
I got as comfortable as the chair would permit, and crossed my arms over my chest, waiting to see what would happen. Tamsin seemed to be counting us. She looked out the door and down the hall as if she expected someone else to come, frowned, and said, "All right, let's get started. Everyone got coffee, or whatever you wanted to drink? Okay, good job!" Tamsin Lynd took a deep breath. "Some of you just got raped. Some of you got raped years ago. Sometimes, people just need to know others have been through the same thing. So would each one of you tell us a little about what has happened to you?"
I cringed inside, wishing very strongly that I could evaporate and wake up at my little house, not much over a mile from here.
Somehow I knew Sandy McCorkindale would be the first to speak, and I was right.
"Ladies," she began, her voice almost as professionally warm and welcoming as her husband's was from the pulpit, "I'm Sandy McCorkindale, and my husband is the pastor of Shakespeare Combined Church."
We all nodded. Everyone knew that church.
"Well, I was hurt a long, long time ago," Sandy said with a social smile. In a galaxy far, far, away? "When I had just started college."
We waited, but Sandy didn't say anything else. She kept up the smile. Tamsin didn't act as though she was going to demand Sandy be any more forthcoming. Instead, she turned to Janet, who was sitting next to her.
"Lily and I are workout buddies," Janet told Tamsin.
"Oh, really? That's great!" Tamsin beamed.
"She knows I got raped, but not anything else," Janet said slowly. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. She appeared to be concerned about the effect her story would have on me. Ridiculous. "I was attacked about three years ago, while I was on a date with a guy I'd known my whole life. We went out parking in the fields, you know how kids do. All of a sudden, he just wouldn't stop. He just ... I never told the police. He said he'd tell them I was willing, and I didn't have a mark on me. So I never prosecuted."
"Next, ah, Carla?"
"I was shooting pool at Velvet Tables," she said hoarsely. I estimated she was approaching fifty, and the years had been hard. "I was winning some money, too. I guess one of them good ole boys didn't like me beating the pants off of 'em, put something in my drink. Next thing I know, I'm in my car buck naked without a dime, my keys stuck up my privates. They'd had sex with me while I was out. I know all of 'em."
"Did you report?" Tamsin asked.
"Nope, I know where they live," Carla said.
There was a long silence while we chewed that over. "That feeling, the need for vengeance, is something we'll talk about later," Tamsin said finally. "Melanie, would you tell us what happened to you?"
I decided that Tamsin didn't know Melanie that well, just from the timbre of her voice.
"I'm new to anything like this, so please just bear with me." Melanie gave a nervous and inappropriate giggle that may have agreed with the plump cheeks and pink coloring, but clashed with the anger in her dark eyes. Melanie was even younger than Janet, I figured.
"Why are you here, Melanie?" Tamsin was in full therapist mode now, sitting with her clothes arranged over her round form in the most advantageous way. She crossed her ankles, covered with thick beige stockings, and tried not to fiddle with the pencil in her clipboard.
"You mean, what incident?" Melanie asked.
Excerpted from Shakespeare's Counselor by Charlaine Harris. Copyright © 2001 by Charlaine Harris. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
"The mystery in SHAKESPEARES COUNSELOR is exceptionally well plotted, with an ending that will take everyone by surprise.... an extremely compelling read."RT Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love the Lily Bard character. She is not the "perfect" heroine. She has flaws and trouble dealing with her past. (Like all of us!) Charlaine Harris has a great writing style and I love her sense of humor. I hope she continues writing books with this character.
Yes, I admit I am addicted to anything written by Charlaine Harris. I just love all of her series - especially the Sookie Stackhouse ones. I have now read every book she has had published. I will say that I have found that the first book of most of her series is usually not as great as the subsequent volumes, but I still love them all.
I hope you continue with Lily
Lily is getting more and more involved with Jack and his business, and finally goes to some counselling to deal with some of her issues to do with her kidnapping and rape when she was younger. Things get complicated when one of her fellow members is killed. It's interesting, the characters do develop but it is quite slow.
The fifth and final installment in the Lily Bard series wraps up Lily's story quite nicely. In addition to finally settling down with Jack, Lily has decided to face her past and begin attending group therapy sessions. Of course, these sessions become the scene for yet another murder in cozy little Shakespeare. And as usual, Lily is right smack in the middle of the action. As others have said, this wasn't the best in the series. I think some of that was because there weren't any loose ends to leave you craving the next book. But with Lily's settling down and everything, it did have a hint of finality to it. I for one am sorry to see her go... though I hear she may be making cameo appearances in some of Charlaine Harris's other books from time to time. :)
The final in this murder mystery series where Lily Bard finally starts seeing a counsellor for her rape, but one of the other members is found murdered and she starts to unravel the mystery.
It would be nice if Charlaine Harris would give us another Lily Bard mystery in this style--a fair amount of action, development of Lily's character, and a mystery that isn't too hard to catch up with at the end.
This is the fifth book (and last?) in the Lily Bard mystery series. I can now say that Lily is one of my favorite literary characters in any genre, not just mystery. My favorite part of this one is the deepening of the relationship between Lily and her husband, Jack. The resolution of the mystery in this one is a little weak, but the characters and small town detail more than make up for it. I sure hope Ms. Harris publishes more in this series soon! Four stars.
This is my favorite (so far) of the Lily Bard mysteries. I don't know if Lily is just growing on me or if the changes to her character have made her easier to like, but I found myself much more interested in her. I think her attraction to Bobo and relationship with Jack are particularly well-done, and the plot in this one was one of the more unique mysteries I've read recently.
Looking at the setting (Shakespeare, Arkansas) and the heroine¿s name (Lily Bard) it¿s a simple jump to the conclusion that Shakespeare¿s Counselor is a cozy mystery. It is not. It¿s in the murky waters between cozy and noir: too dark to be cozy, too hopeful to be noir. The heroine is an edgy, troubled ¿ some might say haunted ¿ protagonist partnered with Jack Leeds, who¿s very much her kindred spirit. Lily cleans houses, practices the martial arts and serves as Jack¿s apprentice in his private investigation business. Jack is a former cop who left law enforcement under a cloud. But the part of Lily¿s life Shakespeare¿s Counselor zeroes in on is her earlier gang rape ¿ something that turned her until-then idyllic life upside-down. As the book opens, Lily awakens from one of her frequent nightmares punching and trying to strangle Jack. Finally, Jack¿s suggestion that she attend a group therapy session for rape victims seems like a good idea. But the dark side intrudes on this healing phase of Lily¿s life when a new member of the group is murdered in a very gruesome way and Lily learns that the group¿s leader, Tamsin Lynd, is herself being stalked. Lily and Jack aren¿t the type of folks you¿d invite to your house and expect to be the life of the party. They¿re both brooders who don¿t trust others easily and are fearful of revealing too much of their past, alluded to continuously, but never totally explained. My tastes run to lighter fare but, nonetheless, I enjoyed reading Shakespeare¿s Counselor and would think readers who prefer mysteries that are less frothy than the typical cozy would like it even more. It¿s well plotted, well written and has enough twists, turns and mysterious types to keep it interesting.First published in Mystery News, April-May 2005 issue.
I loved it!
Can't wait for next book.
Who can i rp plzzzzzzzzzz
For diehard Harris fans. If your life revolves around clean kitchens and tidy yards, this is for you!
The final section to the five part series clearly is the most mind challenging of all. The puzzle pieces are all out in clear sight but appear to be so unrelated to what is happening you tend to misread the meaning. This left the series compleat with no questions about the charters, other than what puzzles they may end up solving later down the road.