Tags: aunt dimity series

The Shadow

Aunt Dimity, Detective

Aunt Dimity:  Detective My pleasure reading tends to go on spurts -- I'll read a number of books in a given genre before going on to something else.  Lately, I seem to be on a bit of a kick for "cosy mysteries"

"Cozy mysteries" are, typically, murder mysteries which take place in some kind of unlikely, charming setting:  small towns, villages, etc.  They are just the kind of mystery story that Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler inveighed against.  But ..... you know ..... they can still be a lot of fun, precisely because of their artificiality.

Premise:  Lori Sheperd, a homemaker originally from the US, lives in a cottage in the Cotswalds, in England.  Her husband is a well-to-do lawyer, with an international legal practice, and they have two sons.  She inherited the cottage from a friend of her Mother's, whom Lori grew up thinking what merely a character in her mother's bedtime stories:  "Aunt Dimity".  However, although Aunt Dimity is dead, that doesn't mean that she has passed on:  her ghost still occupies the village, takes an interest in village affairs, and communicates with Lori through writing that appears in an old journal.

Story:  Lori returns from a trip stateside to find that a murder has occurred in the little village of Finch, near where she lives.  Such a thing is almost unheard of.  Prunella "Pruneface" Hooper was not much liked by the villagers for her backbiting, rumor mongering, ways.  

Lori's initial reluctance to get involved, however, crumbles when a good friend of hers not only experiences the backlash of one of Prunella Hoopers rumors, but also becomes the target of police investigation as a result.

No one admits to having witnessed the murder -- but, eventually, Lori gets 3 or 4 villagers to admit having seen someone *else* out and about the village square, at the early hour at which the murder occurred.  Each one hadn't admitted to that to the police because they had one or another secret they were hiding.

Which one, however, is responsible?

Positives:
  • The prose style is readable and smooth.
  • There are an abundance of appealing characters -- within a few paragraphs, the author summoned up clear pictures of flawed, believable, personalities.
  • The setting is ably described.
Negatives:
  • The main character lives a singularly privileged existence:  she doesn't need to work, she has a nanny to take care of raising her children, and she enjoys much greater freedom and prosperity than most people have -- but she doesn't seem particularly appreciative of that.  (However, neither does she seem to look down upon people who don't share her level of prosperity, which is a point in her favor)
  • The mystery, ultimately, is solved by someone other than the "detective".
  • The supernatural angle really doesn't add much to the story:  in the scenes where Lori consults with Aunt Dimity, the ghost acts more like a sounding board that the "detective" promised by the title.
  • The protagonist becomes besotted with the nephew of the Minister's wife, Nicholas Fox, and goes on at sometimes annoying length about her attraction to him.
  • This isn't a pageturner -- it proceeds at a pretty steady pace.
Evaluation:

The protagonist, Lori Sheperd, is probably the weakest character of the whole book:  she seems both lacking in self-awareness of her own privilege, and isn't much use as a detective, either:  for example {SPOILER -- highlight only if you want to know one of the "revelations"}, it takes her 3/4 of the novel to figure out Nicholas' secret, that he is a police detective, currently on leave, something which I strongly suspected a quarter of the way in.  However, Lori is also very observant, with the result that an astute reader sometimes understands more than she does.

However, if Lori is the weakest character, her deficiencies are, I think, more than adequately compensated by the other characters in the story who come across as living, intelligent, flawed, quirky human beings.  I found myself putting up with Lori for the sake of the pleasure I found in reading about the other people in her village and their interactions with each other.

Assessment:  Recommended.  In spite of the flaws already mentioned, the author shows a knack for characterization and setting.  It says something that shortly after reading this novel, I immediately went to my local bookstore to find the first novel in the series.  Although the novel wasn't notable for suspense or pace, I found myself looking forward to dipping into it repeatedly, to spend  (vicarious) time in that village, with those people.