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American/Cozy Mysteries

Shakespeare's Counselor, Charlaine Harris, Berkley Prime Crime, $6.50.

Shakespeare's Counselor by Charlaine Harris

I think Charlaine Harris is really three different people. One Charlaine Harris writes the light and witty Aurora Teagarden mysteries; one writes romantic vampire mysteries; and one writes the powerful, moving and excellent Lily Bard series. The "Lily" series starts out with Shakespeare's Landlord and follows the difficult, prickly, strong, and very clean Lily through her journey as a rape survivor who has moved to Shakespeare, Arkansas, to become a cleaning lady. Lily is definitely a spiritual sister to Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski - I imagine if V.I and Lily were to meet they might approve of each other, specifically the way neither of them is able to tolerate a wrong - especially a moral one. I've read all the books in this series and have found that this particular one packs an especially powerful punch.

The story centers on Lily's long delayed decision to enter rape counseling, thanks to an incident where she attacked her boyfriend in her sleep. The group proves helpful to Lily, and becomes puzzling to her as well as to the reader when it appears that their group's counselor, Tamsin Lynd, is being stalked. Lily is also now working part time as a private investigator in training (her ex-cop boyfriend is a PI) and puts her skills to use observing her counselor (and neighbor's) quirky behavior and the disturbing acts of violence that seem to swirl around her, including, of course, murder. Harris is extremely skillful at keeping the reader on track with Lily's thought processes as she figures out what's going on - Lily may be smarter, but only slightly. I was only a little behind her in figuring out what was going on. This book becomes a complex look at "violation" in all its many forms - rape, of course, included - but while you're reading it, you'll simply appreciate the excellent story. Harris makes it look easy.

To think that American women writers are not tackling the same difficult, emotionally complex issues as their sisters in crime in Great Britain is, I think, wrong - writers like Laura Lippman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Charlaine Harris are tackling difficult issues. Lippman takes on murder and its aftermath in an extremely complex way in Every Secret Thing; Spencer-Fleming tells a heartbreaking story of ignorance and its ramifications in Out of the Deep I Cry; and Harris tackles the aftermath of rape in Shakespeare's Counselor. The prose these women use is just more straightforward, and I guess, more "American". Harris' prose especially is deceptively simple, but frequently elegant and evocative. A sentence like "the day was lying on my shoulders like a heavy coat" doesn't leave much out, and it doesn't have any extra stuff thrown in. The Lily Bard books are full of beautiful language, and I've often gone back after finishing one of the books just to appreciate a few choice sentences. There are lots of reasons to rejoice at the complex and entertaining way American women are telling stories at the moment, Charlaine Harris being just one very good example.

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