Aunt Dimity’s Death was written by Nancy Atherton and published in 1992. It is the first of twenty-one novels in the Aunt Dimity series that follows Lori Shepherd, a character that Atherton based on herself.1 Atherton also has a passion for traveling and incorporated her memories of England into the novel’s authentic settings.2
Aunt Dimity’s Death is a cozy mystery that is set in the English countryside. Lori is extremely miserable with her life until she receives a letter from a prestigious law firm. Willis and Willis informs her that her Aunt Dimity has passed away. Aunt Dimity corresponded with Lori’s mother and wrote dozens of letters and stories. In order to receive an inheritance, Lori learns that she must complete a task at Dimity’s country cottage. One of the lawyers, who is nicknamed Bill, accompanies Lori to the cottage to assist her. She transforms into an amateur sleuth.
Unlike other traditional mysteries, Aunt Dimity’s Death includes a paranormal component. While Lori is at the cottage, Aunt Dimity’s spirit reveals herself by writing in Lori’s journal. She is troubled and Lori immediately realizes that there is a deeper, romantic secret that requires her attention. She travels through England with Bill seeking answers and meeting a number of compelling characters that are connected to Dimity’s past. The novel focuses on Lori’s journey to uncover Dimity’s secret while encompassing a blossoming romance, sorrowful ghosts, and detailed World War II history lessons.
Nancy Atherton focuses most of her time on the portrayal of her novel’s settings. She describes the English countryside with intense detail. Readers can visualize every aspect of Dimity’s cottage.
It was just as my mother had described it, a two story stone house with a broad front lawn, sheltered from the road by a tall hedgerow. The yard light glinted from diamond panes of leaded glass and hinted at the golden glow the walls would have in sunlight. The slate roof, the flagstone path leading from the drive to the weathered front door, all was as I had envisioned it, down to the bushes that were already heavy-laden with white lilacs.” (Atherton 98)
However, as a fan of traditional cozy stories, I was not impressed with the story line. It is targeted towards readers who enjoy leisurely readings; the actual mystery was not revealed until halfway into the novel. Cozies are the gentlest novels in mystery fiction. They do not involve graphic murders, violence, sexual relationships or profanity but still include some intriguing plot to keep readers interested. Aunt Dimity’s Death does not include any action whatsoever. When readers finally learn about the possibility of a mystery, they are disappointed that it merely involves a lover’s guilt and regret. Lori is falling in love with Bill while they are simultaneously exploring her aunt’s romance. Because of these overpowering romantic themes, the novel felt more like a cheap Hallmark movie than a true mystery novel.
Publisher’s Weekly does a fantastic job describing why the novel was unsuccessful: “Despite its buoyant tone, this blend of fairy tale, ghost story, romance and mystery proves a disappointment. Novelist Atherton creates a potentially appealing heroine in bewitched and bewildered Lori Shepherd, but never places her in danger, thus sacrificing suspense.”5 Lori is a genuinely likeable character who is overpowered by the unnecessary elements of paranormal activity. If a reader is looking for an easy, romantic read and is comfortable with ghosts, Aunt Dimity’s Death is superb. But if you are looking for a novel involving a true cozy mystery, consider Agatha Christie.
- Decandido, Graceanne A. “Aunt Dimity’s Death.” Booklist, 2000. Edsglr, hoover2.mcdaniel.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.62433581&site=eds-live. Accessed 30 Nov. 2017.
- Drew, Bernard A. “Nancy Atherton .” The 100 Most Popular Contemporary Mystery Authors: Biographical Sketches and Bibliographies, Libraries Unlimited, 2011, pp. 8–10.
- Atherton, Nancy. “Aunt Dimity’s Death (Image).” GoodReads, images.gr-assets.com/books/1312141392l/772454.jpg.
- “Nancy Atherton .” Penguin Random House, 2015, www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/241458/nancy-atherton.
- Publisher’s Weekly. “Fiction Book Review: Aunt Dimity Series .” Book Reviews , 1992, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-670-88453-7.