Nancy Atherton's cozy mystery series uses the Little Old Lady Investigates trope with a twist: Aunt Dimity is dead.American Lori Shepherd grew up hearing her mother regale her with the adventures of "Aunt Dimity" in England. Lori believes the tales are entirely made up and cherishes them as pleasant childhood memories (much as she cherishes her old stuffed rabbit Reginald). Recently divorced, short on money and employment, Lori's life is drastically altered when she learns that Dimity Westwood was a real person who recently died and left Lori a bequest of $10,000. The condition is a request that Lori go to Dimity's old home (a honey-coloured stone cottage near the village of Finch, said to be in the Cotswolds), search through Dimity's decades-long correspondence with Lori's mother, and write an introduction to a soon-to-be-published collection of the "Aunt Dimity" stories. Through the cache of letters, Lori finds out more about the life her mother lived in London during WWII when she became friends with Dimity during their wartime service. She recognizes many of her bedtime stories as retellings of true incidents in Dimity's life.Lori also gets a blue leather-bound journal with blank pages, with which she finds she can communicate directly with Dimity. Lori speaks to the open diary, and Dimity's half of their conversations appears on the pages in her old-fashioned copperplate handwriting. After the initial investigation to satisfy the terms of the will, Dimity continues to be available to Lori via the blue journal, allowing Dimity to keep abreast of events in her village and in Lori's life. On rare occasions, Dimity also speaks to other characters (notably Bill Willis and Emma Harris) through the journal. When it comes to detecting and problem-solving, Dimity mostly provides Lori with information from her lifetime of living in Finch, as well as advice; information about "the other side" and its denizens is sometimes cryptic or otherwise incomplete, as if Dimity must abide by certain rules.Most of the stories take place in Finch and its environs, but there are notable excursions to Cornwall, Northumberland, Scotland, Colorado and New Zealand. Fortunately, the journal (and occasionally Reginald) can easily fit into a suitcase or knapsack—and sometimes Dimity will help pack.Every book mentions some form of food (usually baked goods) as part of characterization and/or plot, and the recipe for that item is appended to the text.The author's website includes information on the books and book tours, photo galleries of fans' own pets and "stuffies" (known as "Reginald's Friends") and the recipes featured in the books.
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The Series in Chronological Order
- Aunt Dimity's Death (1992). Voted "One of the Century's 100 Favorite Mysteries" by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Lori Shepherd takes on the late Dimity Westwood's request and gets a lot more than $10,000. Featured recipe: Beth's Oatmeal Cookies.
- Aunt Dimity and the Duke (1994). Nominated for the Dilys Award by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. Set in Corwall and revolving around passionate amateur gardener Emma Porter, later a friend and neighboour of Lori's. Featured recipe: Nell's Strawberry Tarts.
- Aunt Dimity's Good Deed (1996). Lori wants to start a family, but Lori's new husband, Bill Willis, is turning into a workaholic. Lori goes to England and is accompanied by her father-in-law. Willis Sr. soon disappears, leaving Lori and Aunt Dimity to solve a centuries-old Willis family secret. Featured recipe: Uncle Tom's Butterscotch Brownies.
- Aunt Dimity Digs In (1998). Lori copes with infant twins, questions around her new Italian nanny, and bitter feelings among the locals due to an archaeologist's activities. Featured recipe: Lilian's Lemon Bars.
- Aunt Dimity's Christmas (1999). Lori's perfect family Christmas is interrupted by a mysterious, charismatic stranger who collapses in the driveway of her cottage. She teams up with a Roman Catholic priest to search the shelters and hospitals of Oxford for clues to the man's identity. Featured recipe: Angel Cookies.
- Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil (2000). Stan Finderman, Lori's old boss, asks her to evaluate a rare book collection in Northumberland. Featured recipe: Claire's Lace Cookies.
- Aunt Dimity: Detective (2001). A newly arrived resident of Finch proves to be a malicious gossip and is the first murder victim in nearly a hundred thirty years. Most of the residents had reason to want her dead, and Lori agrees to investigate. Featured recipe: The Pym Sisters' Gingerbread.
- Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday (2003). Bill is summoned to an earl's estate for a will reading, and Lori goes along. The pleasant outing turns sinister when a dove-shaped topiary is set ablaze and threatening notes begin to appear. Featured recipe: Winnie's Treacle Tart.
- Aunt Dimity: Snowbound (2004). Lori and two other stranded backpackers take shelter from a blizzard in a fabulous home with betrayal and madness in its past and an unstable caretaker in its present. Featured recipe: Catchpole's Apricot Compote.
- Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin (2005). Lori's volunteer stint at an infirmary leads one of the patients to entrust her with finding her long lost brother's family. Featured recipe: Miss Beacham's Raisin Bread.
- Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea (2006). Fleeing death threats, Lori and the twins stay with a wealthy and eccentric adventurer on an oddly-prosperous island off the Scottish coast. Soon a human skull washes up on the beach. Featured recipe: Sir Percy's Favorite Sticky Lemon Cake.
- Aunt Dimity Goes West (2007). To relax and recover after their harrowing close call, Lori and boys go to stay at a house in the Colorado Rockies. They soon learn why the terms of their sub-let were so reasonable: The owners refuse to live in their once-beloved home, and the previous caretaker disappeared. Featured recipe: Carrie Vyne's Calico Cookies.
- Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter (2008). Lori's sons are not only drawing vampires, they insist they've seen one in the nearby woods. Lori enlists a neighbour's help (as well as Aunt Dimity's) to investigate the stranger the boys described. Featured recipe: Charlotte's Jammy Biscuits.
- Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon (2009). A renaissance fair sets up near the village, and Lori and the villagers get to cope with traffic, crowds, litter, and "accidents". Featured recipe: King Wilfred's Honey Cakes.
- Aunt Dimity: Paranormal Detective (2009). Novels one and two republished as one volume. Featured recipes: Beth's Oatmeal Cookies and Nell's Strawberry Tarts.
- Aunt Dimity Down Under (2010). Elderly and beloved neighbours, the twins Ruth and Louise Pym, ask Lori to find their long-banished brother Aubrey so they can reconcile before they die. Featured recipe: Donna's Anzac Biscuits.
- Aunt Dimity And The Family Tree (2011). Willis Sr. buys and renovates an old estate near the village. Lori helps out with the restoration of an old painting found on the premises and keeps an eye on the new housekeeper and gardener, who seem too good to be true. Featured recipe: Aunt Dimity's Seed Cake.
- Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch (2012). A famous botanical artist moves to Finch, and Lori and her neighbours help her fend off fans and search for information on an ancestor, who the locals all know as "Mad Meg". Featured recipe: Amelia Thistle's Brown Bread.
- Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince (2013). At a local museum, Lori meets a little girl who speaks of a silver saltcellar on display as if she'd seen it in use at a grand dinner party. Lori later finds the child's parka among items donated to her foundation's thrift shop with the saltcellar in one of the pockets, while the child and her mother have disappeared. Featured recipe: Mama Markov's Russian Tea Cakes.
- Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well (2014). Local Finch introvert Hector Huggins dies, and his strapping Australian nephew arrives to settle his uncle's affairs. After helping clear the overgrown garden, Lori casually tosses a coin into the well and makes a wish that seems to come true. Word spreads, more villagers try their luck, and chaos ensues. Featured recipe: Sally Pyne's Summer Pudding.
- Aunt Dimity and the Summer King (2015). While Lori and Bill have been preoccupied by the birth of their baby daughter Bess, cottages in Finch stand vacant and something is driving promising buyers away. Featured Recipe: Harriet's Pinwheel Cookies.
- Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure (2016). Lori finds a gold and garnet bracelet in the attic of her cottage, and Dimity asks Lori to find the suitor who gave it to her decades ago. Meanwhile, newcomers to Finch include an enthusiastic metal detectorist from whom the villagers catch the metal-detecting bug. They find rubbish, some embarrassing truths, and a piece of sad local history. Featured Recipe: Eggless Fruit Cake.
Tropes used in this series include:
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- Actually Not a Vampire: Early in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, five-year-old twins Rob and Will see someone standing in the woods near their riding school who looks like a vampire they saw in a classmate's vampire comic book. Lori checks out their story, convinced they saw someone, and finds footprints and a scrap of red silk the riding instructor missed. It turns out to be Charlotte DuCaral, a neighbour who wears the cloak, along with zinc oxide sun block and red lipstick, who was in the woods brooding over her lost love, who promised to elope with her years before but didn't arrive.
- Adam and/or Eve: Adam Chase, the handsome military historian Lori meets in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, could be said to be "from the ground": he's the grandson of Claire Byrd, the ghost of Wyrdhurst Hall.
- Adult Fear: Once Lori becomes a parent, these sorts of fears start to figure into her reactions. This gets a humourous treatment when she's an overprotective new mom, but it also drives her more serious investigation of the possible pedophile in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter.
- Afterlife Antechamber: Aunt Dimity seems to occupy an area like this, especially when she's communicating with Lori. In some instances, notably in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, she writes of making inquiries among other spirits who have passed beyond, giving the impression that said spirits aren't immediately available for consultation.
- An Aesop: Most of the standards get covered, and generally more than one person learns something in the course of each book.
- The Alleged Car: Lori's secondhand Morris Mini, which she retains for a time despite having sufficient wealth to replace it with something much flashier. She even gets a second one later, in addition to the silver Mercedes and the yellow Range Rover, which she uses for short trips without the twins. Justified by her poor driving.
- All Hallows' Eve: Claire Byrd the ghost who possesses Lori from Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, was born on October 31st.
- Alliterative Name: William Arthur Willis (Senior and Junior), Sir Williston Willis, Wendy Walker, Sir Percy Pelham, Deirdre and Declan Donovan, Tony Thames, Lady Barbara Booker and Mikhail Markov.
- All Girls Like Ponies: Nell Harris first learned to ride on a visit to some of the English Willises in Yorkshire. She expertly drops hints and gets a horse for her birthday (named Rocinante). Later, her parents Derek and Emma Harris start a riding school. This comes in handy, since Lori's sons Will and Rob also grow to be horse-mad (parodied/gender-inverted/take your pick). Another of the Harrises' early pupils is Chloe, the daughter of a widow for whom Lori tries her hand at matchmaking in Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin.
- Amateur Sleuth: Lori is this, as is (was) Dimity. Lori has some knowledge of old books and manuscripts (which does come in handy from time to time), but she inherited a fortune from Dimity and so no longer must work for a living. When not sleuthing, she oversees a charitable foundation and keeps house for her husband and sons. In life, Dimity wasn't a sleuth either; she did clerical work during the war, volunteered at a daycare centre for war widows and their children, and ran her charitable foundation—when she wasn't gardening or writing letters.
- Ambiguously Gay: Grant and Charles aren't mentioned as gay, but they show all the signs. Their careers are in the art world, specifically in restoration, framing, and appraisals. On first moving to their cottage in Finch, they compete in the village flower show and win. They have a pair of small pet dogs named for artists. They routinely go to London for the theatre. They're just as much the Gossipy Hens as any of their neighbours; they share a table with Lori at Sally Pyne's cafe to watch Amelia move into her cottage. The morning after their cottage is broken into in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, Charles is prostrate on a chaise and fortifying himself with alcohol, and Grant offers a drink to Lori before preparing one for himself.
- Amusing Injuries: Many varieties throughout the books. In Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, Lori is securing Rob into his booster seat in the car when Emma recounts a series of rumours regarding the identity of Willis Sr.'s mysterious houseguest; seeming to forget where she was and what she was doing, Lori reacts by straightening up abruptly and hitting her head on the car roof. See also The Pratfall below.
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Likely shoutouts to Dorothy Parker:
- In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, when Syd Bishop scolds Emma Porter for being mad at Derek and she starts to deny it, Syd cuts her off saying, "And I'm the queen of Romania."
- From Lori Shepherd in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday: when Emma tells Lori that her husband of ten years is actually a peer, Lori says, "Your husband is Viscount Hailesham. Of course he is. And I am Marie of Roumania."
- Asshole Victim: Prunella Hooper so alienated the residents of Finch with her malicious gossip and outright lies that no one seems to mourn her death very much. It also means that many of the residents had a motive to kill her, and they are suspects in her death. It's somewhat anticlimactic to learn her death was accidental, but also in keeping with this trope that the witness to the accident, Mr. Barlow, didn't report it at the time.
- Aura Vision: Finch's resident Wiccan Miranda Morrow says she reads auras; she says this ability showed her that Nicholas Fox, Lilian Bunting's nephew, was a police officer. In Aunt Dimity Goes West, local Colorado psychic Amanda Barrow says much the same and actually sees the ghost of Cyril Pennyfeather standing behind Lori in her shop.
- Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: When Calvin Malvern describes his King Wlifrid's Faire he specifically says the point of it is to enjoy a fantasy, rather than a stickler-for-detail re-enactment. To that end, he encourages the residents to attend in costume, and lets it be known that anything vaguely like medieval- or Renaissance-era clothing will do. Lori and her neighbours quickly get in the spirit, doing library research, taking one of Sally Pyne's sewing classes, or hiring costumes from a theatrical supplier. Even Bill dons an ensemble from Calvin's stores that he calls a "cool medieval dude" outfit; Lori is particularly taken with the way he fills his tights.
- Awful Truth: In the dénouement of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, Derek's cousin Simon and his father father finally tell him that his mother died of cancer, and that she wanted it kept from him (Derek was seven at the time) because the disease and its treatment had a drastic effect on her appearance. The Earl says: "She lost her hair, her fingernails, her teeth. Her skin turned gray, her body shriveled. You were her darling child, the only one she would ever have.. She didn't want you to remember her that way. She wouldn't let me tell you...." Derek grew up believing his father had alienated his mother ("My mother spent the last year of her life in London because my father was a heartless swine. I vowed then and there that I would never be like him."). He took the dismissal of his beloved nanny who showed signs of insanity and was having an affair with the Earl's valet as further evidence of his father's cruel nature, and he changed his name and avoided his father for twenty years.
- Backup from Otherworld: Dimity helps Lori get rid of an unwelcome visitor (Dr. Evan Fleischer, an obnoxious college classmate) who invites himself to her cottage. She literally slams the door in his face, makes the cottage turn strikingly cold when he enters anyway, fills the living room with smoke from the fireplace, and causes him to break a tooth on one of Lori's oatmeal cookies (which "contained nothing more tooth-threatening than some chewy raisins.")
- Bad Liar:
- Lori is most successful at avoiding issues by not mentioning them at all than by telling a lie. In Aunt Dimity: Detective, she jokingly asks Nicholas Fox to teach her to play poker, since he so much better at concealing his feelings than she is.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, curator Mile Craven acts suspiciously when Lori and Bree ask after his former employee Amanda Pickering; his gaze drops and his chatty demeanor abruptly disappears. His discomfiture is related to his inability to keep a secret (see below).
- Bare Your Midriff: Part of Bree Pym's "youthful take on funeral attire" in Aunt Dimity Down Under was a black miniskirt paired with "a clinging black sweater that covered her tattoos but didn't quite cover her tummy."
- Barsetshire: Most of the books take place in and around the Cotswold village of Finch, with Upper Deeping as the nearest market town and Oxford being the nearest major city.
- Battleaxe Nurse: Willis Sr.'s housekeeper Deirdre is a mild comic version of this in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince. Early in the book, she bars all visitors to the house (including Lori's cabin-feverish sons) when her employer has a severe head cold. Later, Bree recounts a series of phone messages to Lori, including these two: "Deirdre Donovan rang. She's given William the all-clear to attend church on Sunday. William rang. He will attend church on Sunday, with or without Deirdre Donovan's all-clear."
- Big Fancy House: Notably, Penford Hall, seat of the Duke of Penford in Aunt Dimity and the Duke; Hailesham Park, the seat of the Earl of Elstyn and the setting for Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday; and Dundrillin Castle, Sir Percy's Scottish island retreat in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea. Lori and Bree visit a series of them in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince.
- Willis Sr. assists his English cousins in confronting a blackmailer in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed. An incompetent physician learns of both the family's literal skeleton in the closet and some accounting errors in the family law practice that might be construed as embezzlement, coupled with some actual embezzlement by a now-deceased in-law. Willis Sr. also informs Scotland Yard, and a Chief Inspector is present at the dénouement.
- In Aunt Dimity: Detective, Prunella Hooper is revealed to have been blackmailing Peggy Taxman over the son she had out of wedlock and gave up when she was fifteen.
- Blanket Fort: In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Will and Rob build "a complicated complex of sea caves for their seal pups, using blankets, tables, model cars, knights in armor, plastic dinosaurs, and a variety of other items seldom observed in the wild by the Seal Conservation Trust but which my sons deemed essential to a baby seal's happiness."
- Blitz Evacuees: In Aunt Dimity Digs In, several of the current residents of Finch are revealed to have first come to the village as these during WWII, and they've returned there later in their lives because of the pleasant memories and the feeling of sanctuary the place gave them.
- Bookcase Passage: There's one in the library of Wyrdhurst Hall in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, and it's triggered by removing a book from the shelf. The book on the trigger mechanism is a children's book, and the passage eventually leads to the nursery room where the daughter of the house was imprisoned by her father.
- Book Ends: Two examples:
- Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea opens with Lori fielding balls while her sons play cricket (since she can do little else in the game). At the end of the book, Lori speaks of rejoining her sons in their backyard play, but says she can bowl a wicket clean nine times out of ten. Her throwing ability was so useful against Abaddon that she vows to practice every chance she gets. "Just in case."
- Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon opens on a boring committee meeting, where the villagers are planning for another summer of events, which promise to be just like last year's (and the year before that...). The book closes with Lori and her neighbours actually looking forward to the next committee meeting, since their fun-yet-hectic renaissance summer is over and Guy Fawkes Day is fast approaching.
- Bookworm: Lori has some expertise in rare books and used to work for an academic expert. She is often drawn to the libraries in houses where she is staying. She is even asked to assess the books in an old house in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, and she gives Jamie a mini-lecture on the varieties of bookbindings and endpapers in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound.
- Brawn Hilda: Henrietta Harcourt, the DuCaral household cook in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, is described as physically massive and she proceeds to haul a wet and shivering Kit and Lori into her kitchen. She also physically took them to the scullery, helped them clean up in an experience Lori likens to "taking a ride in a spin dryer," and drags them into the kitchen to sit and eat while their clothes dry.
- Broken Bird: A couple of these in the series:
"Ex-cons have trouble adjusting to life after prison. I disappointed my teachers by not going to university. I haven't been able to hold on to a job since I left Takapuna. I attacked Roger for no good reason, and I expect I'll do the same to Holly. I don't know how to behave around normal people." She pressed her hands to her eyes. "I've given up hope of learning."
- Early on, Lori herself is somewhat subtly depicted this way. Mostly this comes out in her retellings of the "Aunt Dimity" stories in the introductory book. Under the terms of the will, Willis Sr. has her recount several of the stories, first to identify herself as the rightful heir, then as proof that she's researching the correspondence Dimity Westwood and her mother Beth left behind. She begins to notice that the versions she recalls have some telling differences from the tales as originally told in the letters—differences which reflect her own bitterness over her divorce and poverty, the robbery of her humble apartment, and the loss of her mother while she was living in another city.
- This is Bree Pym's backstory as it unfolds in Aunt Dimity Down Under. Her grandfather recently died, her abusive alcoholic father went on one last bender, and she fled the situation, only to find her long-lost mother had remarried and started another family (in part to forget her own sufferings at the hands of Ed Pym). She finds and quits a couple of jobs, gets several tattoos and numerous piercings, and is so upset when the tattoo artist advises her to slow down she trashes his studio and breaks his glasses. Of herself, she tells Lori:
- Burn the Witch!: In Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, as the villagers get involved in the story of the seventeenth-century "witch" Margaret Redfern, the spectre of this is discussed, including the popular belief that the "swimming" of witches, was a Morton's Fork. The vicar's wife Lilian Bunting also describes other methods of interrogation/torture, condemns the very idea of torturing other people for such specious reasons, and is visibly distressed at the prospect that the villagers will learn that such was Margaret Redfern's fate.
- But I Digress: The ghost of Cyril Pennyfeather does this in his conversation with Lori and Dimity in Aunt Dimity Goes West. Cyril is explaining how he calmed Lori and Dimity while going unnoticed by either of them:"Good grief," I said softly. "You made my nightmare go away."It would be more accurate to say that I created an atmosphere of tranquility and security in which you found it easier to sleep, and sleep, saith the Bard, is the balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast. Macbeth Act two, Scene two. But I digress.
- Cabin Fever: Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince opens with a February "curse" seeming to conspire to bring this about for Lori and her sons: a cold snap settles over the area, the heating system at the boys' school breaks down and the needed parts are in Helsinki, the pipes freeze and burst at Emma and Derek's riding school, and the boys' grandfather and schoolmates all come down with a severe head cold. Lori welcomes Bree's arrival on her doorstep to help her entertain her bored twins.
- Cannot Keep a Secret:
- Lori again; this trope is frequently invoked and only partly Played for Laughs. This trait is one of those that make her suited to the village gossip hive that is Finch. It's also the reason Bill doesn't tell her where he's sending her and the kids to escape the stalker at the opening of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea. As it turns out, she's not the one to give that game away; Sir Percy makes an airy remark about taking her over Gretna Green with the stalker literally hiding in the bushes, so he knows they're going to Scotland and follows them there.
- Miles Craven, the curator and caretaker of Skeaping Manor in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince explains his reaction to hearing Amanda Pickering's name this way. His friend Alexei Markov confirms this, "Miles is hopeless at keeping secrets."
- Caught in the Rain: This happens early in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil. Having just escaped from her Range Rover when a stretch of road washes out, Lori stumbles through the storm to a cottage occupied by handsome young military historian Adam Chase, where she collapses. She awakens to find herself and her host naked in his bed before the fireplace.
- Cerebus Rollercoaster: The series as a whole can be characterized this way. The novels have many elements of comedy and even farce, and some of the solutions to the mysteries are simple and largely non-threatening. In other portions, tragic and horrific elements appear, and the answers (e.g. terrorism, suicide, survivor's guilt, murder) are far more grim. Interestingly, the opposites tend to reinforce one another: Characters can take things so seriously that they jump to dire conclusions that are dispelled by relatively innocuous explanations, and everyone has a good laugh afterwards. Alternatively, they can go blithely forward in a misplaced confidence that nothing bad will happen, until something does. There are additional benefits in avoiding saccharine extremes and keeping the audience guessing.
- Character Title: As seen in the list of titles above.
- Close-Knit Community: The village of Finch.
- Closet Geek: Retiree George Wetherhead is initially presented as this over his model trains; he's so shy and retiring about his hobby that when Lori first comes to his door, he seizes her and pulls her inside his cottage so as to avoid having the impending train whistle blast audibly outside his home. Eventually, he is persuaded to show his collection to paying customers, first for a village festival and later on a scheduled basis.
- Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Played for Laughs in the end of Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter: when Lori sees sun-sensitive neighbour Charlotte DuCaral wearing a red-lined black cloak, red lipstick, and zinc oxide sunscreen, she screams and evidently faints, as she isn't too clear on how she got from answering a door to sitting in a chair in an interior room. Her sons had first noticed this person while they were riding their ponies and thought it was Rendor, a character in a vampire comic book brought to school by a classmate.
- Comedy: The series makes frequent use of Comedy Tropes (found throughout this list), as well as playing other tropes for their humour value; they include physical comedy, jokes, misunderstandings, and occasional elements of farce. At the same time, the books also follow the old definition of comedy (as in Shakespeare's comedies and Dante's The Divine Comedy) in that the stories have happy endings, despite the suffering and mistakes that have gone before.
- Contamination Situation: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lady Barbara Booker relates how her childhood friend left his stuffed bear at her house the day before he came down with polio (this was in the 1920s, decades before any vaccine). She innocently tried to visit Mikhail to return the bear, and her father "went spare" and gave her a severe spanking. Although she was kept informed of his progress in recovery, "Basha" and "Misha" did not see one another again until Lori ad Bree's investigation prompted Barbara to pay an unannounced visit to Mikhail's family home.
- Cool House: The Aerie, the Colorado cabin in Aunt Dimity Goes West, is one of these. It seems to have grown organically from the mountainside, and it features a variety of decks and windows in many shapes (including portholes and stars). The place also has a variety of luxuries (sauna, hot tub, arcade game room, outdoor firepit, indoor fireplaces, and so on). One of the characters calls it the owner's treehouse, explicitly stating that he was forbidden a treehouse while growing up and used his wealth as an adult to live the dream.
- Cool Old Lady: Lady Barbara Booker in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince. She declines the use of her title, saying, "I've never been much of a lady." She is openly atheist and spent much of her life travelling wherever she pleased. Nouveau Riche neighbor Gracie Thames calls her "a corker" and says of her "She's too classy to think about class." In her old age, she disregards doctor's orders to be in a room with her books (too dusty) and a fire (too ashy). Inviting Lori and Bree in, she says, "Bung your bags and jackets there and bung your bums anywhere you please." After that, she gives them inside dope on how to enter the Markov house (Mirfield) as well as a master key she persuaded a young Mikhail to steal when they were children.
- Could Say It, But...: Late in Aunt Dimity: Detective, there's a meeting to sort out the events around Prunella Hooper's death. After Sally Pine insults her paganism for the second time during that meeting, local witch Miranda Morrow says, "I'll never tell a soul that I saw you that morning, coming out of Crabtree Cottage."
- Crack! Oh My Back!: Sally Pyne, the owner and operator of the tearoom in Finch, secretly takes up exercise and her joints respond this way. Very much Played for Laughs, especially since her clearly reduced mobility gives away her "secret" to her neighbours.
- Crazy Homeless People: This one gets considerable play in Aunt Dimity's Christmas. The villagers' reactions to the news that Lori and her family had a collapsed vagrant airlifted to hospital range from incredulity to hostility. Lori herself also recounts how she is often uncomfortable when confronted by homeless people (having so nearly been one herself); of the villagers, she says, "I was the last person on earth qualified to judge my neighbors. I had too much in common with them." Lori and Fr. Bright also have an argument over the man's sanity, especially as the evidence of his recent past suggests he has done highly unusual things and may have been committed to a psychiatric hospital; the priest later admits, "Where there was goodness, I chose to see madness." Of course, Rev. Bunting chastises the villagers for their attitude as well.
- Crappy Holidays: Bill expresses this sentiment at the beginning of Aunt Dimity's Christmas. He points out that he's had to attend fifteen parties in ten days, as well as make multiple crowded shopping trips and go into the woods for greenery and a tree—and Christmas is still two weeks away.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: An off-screen death in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil: Josiah Byrd imprisoned his daughter in an attic room after she fell in love, maintained contact with the forbidden suitor, and became pregnant. Her father allowed her to die of birth complications, and the nurse had to smuggle out the infant girl to keep him from killing her as well. Lori senses the ghost leaves her when she and her companions find the room; apparently the experience was so traumatic the ghost can't or won't return to the room.
- Crusty Caretaker: Catchpole in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. Also an Old Retainer for the previous owner who can fill in some of the details of Lucasta DeClerke's life.
Tropes D Through E
- Dark and Troubled Past: While the series is generally upbeat, many characters have had brushes with insanity, tragic accidents, serious diseases, major injuries, even war and murder. In some cases, coping with the fallout occurs over an extended period (often carrying over from one book to the next). The fates of other, more minor characters are addressed in the epilogue that closes each novel; they typically go about rebuilding their lives, and are usually better off after all is revealed.
- Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: Lori uses this to her advantage in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. When a chipper Catchpole brings her breakfast in bed (thinking she's ill), Lori plays up the reaction when he opens the curtains in order to make her illness seem real.
- Dead Man's Chest: In Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Gerald Willis produces a box containing the remains of Sybella Markham Willis and explains the story of how the Willis family came to be on both sides of the Atlantic. Sybella, an heiress and ward of Sir Williston Willis, was supposed to marry the elder of Sir Williston's sons, but she and the younger one fell in love and secretly married. Sir Williston's widow ordered her elder son to kill Sybella and had her younger son drugged, bound and taken aboard a ship headed for the American colonies. Mother and son took possession of Sybella's property and faked documents to paper over their theft. The elder son disinterred Sybella's coffin after his mother's death and the remains, together with a journal of his conversations with the dead Sybella, was passed from father to eldest son for some three hundred years. Willis Sr. promises to arrange for the remains to be buried with her husband in the American Willises' family plot in Boston.
- Dead Man Writing: Often about unfinished business, even if only indirectly.
- After Willis Sr. is sure of Lori's identity, he gives Lori two letters, one from Aunt Dimity and one from her mother. Dimity's provides some background on the terms of her will and the reasoning behind it, while Beth's sets Lori a second task to carry out.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, after cancer patient Elizabeth Beacham's death, Lori gets a package from her; it contains the keys to her flat, a parking pass, and a letter entitling her to her choice of items from the flat. Particular mention is made of a Sheraton Revival desk.
- Late in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound, the trio of "lost" hikers finds one in the family crypt, in a faux burial chamber designed to safeguard the Peacock Parure.
- Diary: Lori finds one volume of Lucasta DeClerke's diary late in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. Through it, Lori learns more of her side of the story behind the theft of her family jewels.
- Different in Every Episode: Someone or something with the name "Shuttleworth" appears in nearly every book. Occasionally, it will be attached to a minor character with actual lines, such as Rev. and Mrs. Shutttleworth of Penford Harbour in Aunt Dimity and the Duke. It was also the name of an inn in Salisbury that Lori had once visited, and which she used as part of her cover story for Simon's visit to the hospital in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday. Most often, it is someone no longer on the scene due to death, or someone never seen yet referenced because they perform some plot function. Two of the references are from Finch (and possibly the same person), a Miss Shuttleworth once ran the village tea room, and Dimity names a Patricia Shuttleworth whose dog's unlikely victory in the local dog show caused a "kerfluffle". The same Shuttleworth (an art teacher in the nearby market town of Upper Deeping) is mentioned in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree and Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. The name also appears on the tombstones of a family that died in an epidemic in Bluebird, Colorado; as one of Bill's clients whose demands keep him in London; as the pseudonym Sir Percy Pelham used to scout out Erinskil before his purchase of his island castle; and Mr. Barlow's Whitby informant on Prunella Hooper and Peggy Kitchen's secret son. According to the author, the references pay tribute to a real Mrs. Shuttleworth, who wrote the first fan letter the author received, putting her effusive praise on embossed stationery no less.
- Disease Bleach: Kit Smith's hair is noted as prematurely grey (he's only around thirty when he is introduced in Aunt Dimity's Christmas); he spent years living as a vagrant and nearly died of a combination of hypothermia and pneumonia.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Aside from the meta-example of "Harry Peters":
You've grown fond of Mistress Meg, haven't you?
- Lori is struck by waves of déjà vu when she goes to Bluebird, Colorado: many of the locals resemble her neighbours in Finch, down to similar-sounding names.
- At the close of one of their conversations on Mistress Meg Redfern in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch:
"Yes, I have," I said.
I can understand why. She was independent, bullheaded, energetic...Hmmm...Who does she remind me of?
"Goodnight, Dimity," I said with a wry smile.
Good night, my dear.
- Do-It-Yourself Plumbing Project: Averted twice in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince:
- Emma calls Lori to tell her the riding school is closed due to burst pipes in the stable yard. While Emma makes a jocular reference to the yard resembling an ice skating rink, her husband Derek's repair efforts are successful (since he rehabs buildings for a living), even uneventfully so.
- Bree Pym foolishly repaints her bedroom during a February cold snap and avoids opening the windows (and thereby bursting her pipes) by leaving the house closed up for several days. She does go back to check on the place and opens the windows for a short while in the daytime, but closes them again before nightfall.
- Doom It Yourself: Bree Pym's poorly-timed painting project (noted above) brings her to Lori's doorstep in hopes of a place to stay for a few days.
- Doting Grandparent: Willis Sr. vis-à-vis Will and Rob. There are many references to this, including a jocular reference to the "law" that grandparents must spoil their grandchildren and being an attorney, Willis Sr. is stickler for obeying the law. He refurbishes the stables at Fairworth House not for his own use (he doesn't ride himself), but so that the twins will ride over for frequent visits.
- Double Take: Another way Lori often wears her heart on her sleeve in an amusing way. Notably, when the ghost of Cyril Pennyfeather wrote in the blue journal for the first time: "I glanced down at the journal, did a double take that nearly sent Reginald flying, and lowered my arm very slowly."
- Driven to Villainy: In Aunt Dimity Goes West, it is revealed that an infamous local mine disaster was due to sabotage caused by a disgruntled employee who had owned the claim originally, sold it for a relative pittance ($5,000.00 in the 1860s), and later learned it contained a rich vein of gold (worth over $200 million by the 1890s!). It also turns out that his wife committed suicide, his son was sent to an orphanage, and his great-grandson later reopened the mine and set a bomb in it to destroy the house built on the site by the owner's descendants.
- Embarrassing Tattoo: Refreshingly averted by the Pym sisters when they finally meet their great-grandniece Bree. They mention having seen tattoos on a sailor and a male farmhand, and while they express curiosity to see them on a young woman, they give no hint of condemnation of the practice. They are also familiar with the Maori cultural influence on New Zealand. After a bit of coaxing, Bree does push up her sleeves to show them, and she tells them about the morepork owl on her left shoulder. Ruth and Louise also recognize the specific flowers (bamboo orchid, red mistletoe and white tea tree blossoms) she has on her arms.
- English Rose: "A somewhat distant and distaff twig of the [Penford] family tree, but a twig nonetheless", Susannah Ashley-Woods was a fashion model known as "Ashers, the English Rose", effectively trading on this trope. Not that she quite lives up to the ideal; explaining her ill-manners, the duke says of her, "She was raised by wolves, you know." She's rude to Emma particularly, since she makes a play for Derek Harris and sees Emma as a rival. She also proves to be nursing a grudge: her father was ruined financially after taking investing advice from Grayson's father and killed himself, and Susannah invites herself to Penford Hall and twits Grayson over his involvement with Lex Rex in revenge. It is only after she's assaulted by a hero-worshipping housemaid who dreams of being a fashion designer that she reverts to the good manners associated with this trope; it also helps that Grayson offers her rooms in Penford Hall and her manager facilitates a business arrangement with Nanny Cole and the housemaid designer.
- Entertainingly Wrong: Many of the plots resolve themselves in this way. Lori was right to suspect someone was in the woods in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, but it wasn't a vampire or a pedophile, it was a neighbour with a sun allergy thinking about a lost love. Willis Sr.'s new housekeeper and gardener have a secret, but they aren't burglars casing the joint, they're caring for an elderly aunt with dementia who grew up in the house. The elderly man wasn't robbed of his treasures by his family, his grandson loaned them to a museum with an inadequate security system, and he wasn't imprisoned by relatives taking advantage of his illness, he himself sent word that he couldn't see anyone due to his post-polio syndrome. The mysterious neighbour isn't scheming to knock down the value of Finch's houses and buy them on the cheap before putting up some profitable and soulless development, he and his ancestors have saved Finch from gentrification by owning nearly all of it outright in a trust and screening potential new residents.
- Escalating War: This provides a major plot in Aunt Dimity Digs In. When an archaeologist starts a dig on church land and takes over the local hall for his specimens, a civil war brews between supporters of the project, led by Sally Pyne (who redecorates her tearoom in Roman motifs) and opponents, led by Peggy Kitchen (who hands out a series of flyers against the dig and starts a petition to the local bishop to send the dig team packing). Apart from a scheduling conflict with the village fete, the biggest question seems to be whether the dig and the potential tourism it might generate will be a boon or a bust for the residents.
- Exhausted Eye Bags: The image appears a few times in the series, when a character is tired due to stress. To cite only one example, new mother of twins Lori is described with "her brown eyes smudged with bruises of fatigue".
- Everyone Can See It: The consensus opinion of the villagers about Nell Harris and Kit Smith being a perfect couple is this trope, at least after the death of Prunella Hooper in Aunt Dimity: Detective. The process takes a few years (and a few novels), but after many postponements (for a variety of reasons), the wed at the end of Aunt Dimity Down Under.
- Every Proper Lady Should Curtsy: When the doorbell rings at Fairworth House just after Willis Sr.'s housewarming party, Willis Sr. mentions that he's expecting neighbour and art restoration expert Grant Tavistock to return for the soot-covered painting in his study. Lori refuses to carry it to Grant's car because she doesn't want it to soil her lovely dress. Willis Sr. pays her a courtly compliment on said dress, Lori thanks him, and then: "I curtseyed in a ladylike manner, then hiked up my lovely dress and set off for the entrance hall at a distinctly unladylike jog."
- Family Business: The law firm of Willis and Willis is run in Boston by William Willis Sr. and his son Bill. The English branch of the family also runs a law firm in London, and Willis Sr. initiates a plan to combine the two. Eventually, Willis Sr. retires and has his nephew Timothy Willis run the Boston office of the firm, and Bill runs the European branch of the international firm from an office in Finch with occasional trips to the London office of distant cousins Gerald and Lucy.
- Fawlty Towers Plot: One of the main plots in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree. Sally Pyne was so caught up in the fantasy of her foreign vacation that she told a few tall tales about her manor house to an attentive suitor. She's aghast when the man writes announcing his intention to visit, and a scheme is hatched to allow her to play the role of Lady Bountiful in Willis Sr.'s house during his visit while concealing her presence there from the other villagers (particularly a quartet of single women who've set their caps for eligible widower Willis Sr.). Naturally, things don't go as planned...
- Finish Dialogue in Unison: Often used when the penny drops for two characters at once, or when two of the participants in a multi-sided conversation are thinking the same thing.
Lori: "What did you do to the cookies?"
- After Evan flees the cottage:
Bill: "I was about to ask you the same thing."
Together in unison: "Dimity."
"Can we postpone the meet-and-greet?" I said, glancing nervously up the staircase. "There's a fire—"
- Early in Aunt Dimity Digs In, Lilian Bunting is recounting the tale of a former schoolmaster who sired many of his pupils without bothering with the formalities of matrimony, when Lori says, "Wow. The PTA meetings must've been—" In response to a sound from the village square, she stops, then says, "What's that noise? It sounds like..." Then Lilian's eyes meet Lori's and they both say "Peggy Kitchen."
- Late in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, Kit and Lori are outside Fairworth House (Willis Sr.'s newly restored home) and see smoke coming from an upstairs window. They call the emergency services and rouse the household and guests including the heretofore unseen Aunt Augusta. After a farcical round of introductions, Lori pipes up:
"There's no fire," Declan interrupted.
"We saw smoke," Kit and I chorused.
"Where there's smoke, there's not always fire," said Declan.
- Fist Pump: After the successful confrontation with the Bowenists and their guru near the end of Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, Bree Pym does one of these (with her arm out of her car window) as she drives away from Fairworth House.
- Flat Joy: During the hunt for Abaddon in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Bill bemoans the disturbance the police investigation brings to his clientele:"Can you imagine the impression it will make?" he asked. "How would you react if a policeman knocked on your door and asked to speak with the family psychopath?"
"I'd introduce myself," I said brightly, but my husband was in no mood for jokes.
"Ha," he said bleakly.
- Flower Motifs: Many and recurring throughout the series, partially justified by the setting and ties to England generally and the Cotswolds specifically. Many of the residents of Finch are devoted amateur gardeners, and gardening and flowers are frequent plot points. A partial list:
- Dimity's favourite flowers are white lilacs, which according to some sources stand for youthful innocence and memories. Some of them grow at her cottage, and bouquets of them (sans cards) appear at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions both before and after her death. The twins' first nanny Francesca is welcomed by the scent of white lilacs in the cottage.
- The cottage is also covered in ivy (particularly outside the study where Lori keeps the glue journal), which is variously described in the sources as referring to friendship, matrimonial bonds, and dependence.
- Early in Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Emma Porter is an American amateur gardener who is taking a tour of English gardens after a decade-plus relationship ends. She meets the Pym sisters at a garden maze, and has a lengthy conversation with them on the subject, not realizing that it was a job interview of sorts. She takes their card and their suggestion to visit the gardens at Penford Hall, and is soon tasked with restoring a walled garden on the estate. She also finds her personal life sorted out as well.
- Lori's favourite flowers are blue irises. She is astonished to find a vase of them on a coffee table in the Willises' Boston parlour (in a cold and slushy early April) the day after she first met the attorneys. Irises are associated with the Greek messenger goddess of the same name, and blue irises specifically stand for faith and hope.
- The unkempt vicarage garden is a problem in Aunt Dimity Digs In, not to mention cover for a burglar. Emma Harris takes the place in hand, with an ebullient eight-year-old Rainey Dawson to assist her. The cleanup provides a clue to one of the minor mysteries of the book.
- Later on in the same book, Rainey has an arrangement of orange lilies to surround her stuffed tiger for a local contest until she causes a mishap that knocks over the vase. Not only do the orange flowers go well with the tiger, the flowers mean passion.
- The weeping willows around the village war memorial (symbolizing mourning) are replaced with holly (meaning foresight and/or domestic happiness).
- Miranda Morrow has a garden chaotically filled with unusual plants that other gardeners might term weeds (including references to marijuana, though nothing is proven). Miranda is an independent-minded sort (the village's only known practising Wiccan) who prepares medicinal poultices, teas and infusions.
- The Pym sisters are associated with lavender (meaning variously serenity, grace, calmness, devotion or distrust); the scent of lavender water permeates their cottage.
- When we finally meet Bree Pym in Aunt Dimity Down Under, she's wearing a greenstone pendant in the shape of a koru (an opening fern frond), and when she finally rises from her seat to leave the park with Lori, she "unfolded like an opening fern frond". Bree also has several flower tattoos: bamboo orchid, red mistletoe and white tea tree blossoms
- Willis Sr. eventually retires and moves to an old estate near Finch. He cultivates orchids in his greenhouse, just as he had in the hothouse of his Boston home. Orchids are symbolic of refined beauty, and Willis sr. is nothing if not refined.
- A botanical artist of great renown features in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. A subplot turns on a particular painting of hers (a spring crocus symbolizing youthful gladness) and the language of flowers, and the exposition of its meaning fills in some of Willis Sr.'s backstory.
- A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: According to the background of Aubrey Pym, after he was turned out of the family home with the clothes on his back, he emigrated to New Zealand, married into money, lost his beloved wife in childbirth, took to drinking and lost much of his fortune. He was wise enough to set aside a packet in his sisters' name and protect it with enough red tape that no one else could touch it before his life reverted to its former ragged state.
- Foreshadowing: Frequent occurrences, including:
- In Aunt Dimity Detective, Lori notes Nicholas' knuckles appear scarred and misshapen, as if he'd been punching a wall, and he later admits to doing just that several times in dealing with his grief. Lori also describes Nicholas' interrogation technique as good cop/bad cop in one conversation with Dimity, and the local witch makes coy remarks to him about inviting the drug squad to tea at her house. It's later revealed that he is in fact a police detective.
- Early in Aunt Dimity Goes West, Bill marshals many arguments to convince Lori to vacation in Colorado with the boys and Annelise; among them, he cites the many wonderful activities available to the boys and says, "They'll have a tale or two to tell their friends when they start school in the fall, that's for sure." Yes, and some of those tales will prove more exciting than even he bargained for—so exciting that they prompt the school's headmistress to summon Bill and Lori for a conference early in Aunt Dimity Vampire Hunter.
- Friend to All Children: Bree Pym proves to be this in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince. Not only does she help entertain Lori's seven-year-old twins when the family is suffering a bit of cabin fever (thanks in part to newly revealed talents for juggling, acrobatics and sleight-of-hand magic, she befriends a poor family from a nearby town and invites them to visit her cottage near Finch on a regular basis.
- From the Mouths of Babes: Early in the series, Nell Harris is the most likely candidate to do this. Later on, Lori's own twin sons Will and Rob take over this task. When they were four years old, they read tabloid headlines out loud in the general store—in front of the local bishop.
- GASP!: During the first dinner at Dundrillin Castle in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Sir Percy recounts a local ghost story, and he's just relayed a creepy detail when the lights go out. Lori's reaction: "I gasped, nearly stabbed myself in the face with a forkful of lamb, and knocked over my water glass."
- Ghost Fiction: Well, obviously.
- Ghost Story: The islanders on Erinskil have a local ghost story about Brother Cieran, the sole survivor of a Viking raid on a local monastery; he had gone to a small nearby island to meditate, so the Vikings didn't kill him, and after attending to the dead, he returned to island to die, pushing the boat away and haunting the place ever since. They also claim to hear the cries of the murdered monks at the monastery ruins. Sir Percy tells this tale to Lori over dinner at Dundrillin Castle; predictably, the lights go out just after he recounts a creepy detail, Lori is startled, and Sir Percy's face reappears in the gloom illuminated from below by a lighted match.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Oh yes they do, and it's not just girls. In this universe, Dimity is responsible for many of them. A partial list:
- Lori's childhood pal is Reginald, the pink flannel rabbit with the grape juice stain on his face (Lori says he tried her grape juice once and spat it out). Sadly, he was shredded when her apartment was burglarised, and Lori kept his remains in a shoe box, but Aunt Dimity magically repaired him. Reginald sometimes assists Dimity in drawing Lori's attention to things or prompting characters to go to specific places.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, the six-year-old Nell Harris carries around a stuffed bear she refers to as "Bertie," who has aspects of both a security blanket and an imaginary friend. The two sometimes appear in matching outfits. Like Reginald, Bertie plays a small part in subsequent stories.
- Dimity provides Lori with a stuffed tiger to give to Rainey Dawson for her birthday in ''Aunt Dimity Digs In". On unwrapping her present, Rainey announces, "Edmund Terrance. His name is Edmund Terrance."
- Major Ted, a stuffed bear in a British officer's uniform who once belonged to the daughter of the house at an old Northumberland estate, features in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil.
- The epilogue of Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince describes a photo of young Daisy Pickering with her reunited parents in Australia holding a koala bear.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Hargreaves' granddaughter Harriet gives a stuffed unicorn to Lori's infant daughter Bess. It joins Reginald on the library shelf until Bess is a little older.
- Elderly retired attorney Thomas Willis (Gerald's father) enjoys the company of a well-worn giraffe named Geraldine in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, and Kit Smith has a stuffed horse named Lancaster after the real horse he had to give up when his family moved to London from the country. Like Lori herself, both received their companions as gifts from Dimity.
- Rob and Will get a series of themed stuffed animals (matching, of course): baby seal pups from Peter Harris and his girlfriend Cassie, buffalo in Colorado, dragons from King Wilfrid's Faire, kiwis from Lori's trip to New Zealand, bats from Charlotte DuCaral. The Donovans' Aunt Augusta anonymously bestows her stuffed lamb (yet another gift from Dimity) on Willis Sr., who names him Frederick after the author of Notes on Sheep, a copy of which was found among the items hidden in the stables.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lady Barbara personally returns Mikhail's Cossack-shirted teddy bear to him.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure, when Lori finally meets the man Dimity knew only as "Badger", she sees on his desk the stuffed badger Dimity once gave him "as a silly gift, a small token of my gratitude for the many wonderful hours we'd spent together."
- Good Samaritan: Lori and her family play the Good Samaritan to the man they find collapsed in their driveway at the beginning of Aunt Dimity's Christmas; Willis Sr. even calls out an RAF helicopter to airlift the man to hospital when the roads are blocked by snow.
- Gossipy Hens: Much of the population of Finch could fall into this category. One of the residents calls the village "the Olympic training center for the sport of nosey parkering."
- Got Volunteered: A Running Gag in reference to Finch's organizer Peggy Taxman (formerly Kitchen), as well as her Colorado counterpart Maggie Flaxman; fall afoul of her and you're likely to find yourself volunteered for one of the dirty or boring jobs at the next local festival. Try to get out of one assignment (as Bill did in Aunt Dimity Digs In), and her alternative "suggestion" won't be much better.
- Gratuitous French: This trope is played with periodically in the case of Nell Harris. She is depicted as unworldly, verging on CloudCuckoolander-territory, but is in fact both intelligent and wise. In Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, she disguises herself as a French girl who is Willis Sr.'s ward and speaks French as a part of the cover, getting information from locals about Gerald Willis. Years later, she falls for Kit Smith, then her father's stable master and twice her age (She's 16, he's 32). He doesn't want to take advantage of her youth and tells her so, but he sneaks into her grandfather's estate to see her after her riding accident in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday. When he goes to leave her bedside, he says, "I...I should go. Good-bye, Nell." She replies, "Au revoir, Kit." The French phrase can be literally translated as, "until our next meeting," making it clear she still loves him.
- The Greys: In Aunt Dimity Digs In, the Peacocks have a new sign painted for their pub, depicting two faces on a dark background: "One face was slightly larger than the other, but apart from that, they were identical: hairless, triangular, and delicate, with enormous eyes, plug holes for nostrils, and thin slits for mouths. They wore dark brown hoods, and their skin was a pale shade of greenish-gray." Naturally, the new name of the pub is "The Green Men".
- Groupie Brigade: The Bowenists who follow the botanical artist Mae Bowen in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch.
- Guilt by Coincidence: In Aunt Dimity Digs In, several people see two hooded figures in the vicinity of the vicarage the night an old pamphlet is stolen from the vicar's desk. Throw in fog, lights, and a Crop Circle, and Hilarity Ensues.
Tropes H Through L
- Harp of Femininity: In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Grayson's grandmother played a harp, and its removal for sale prompted the crisis that opens the book. There's also a painting depicting the twelfth Duchess of Penford seated at her instrument, and it is among the items Grayson repurchased after making a fortune portraying crass rock star Lex Rex.
- Haunted Castle: The neo-Gothic Wyrdhurst Hall in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil.
- Haunted House: Lori, Annelise, and the twins have no competition for the use of the luxurious cabin in Aunt Dimity Goes West because the owner's wife and daughter think the place is haunted. Strictly speaking, it is but the danger isn't from the mild-mannered ghost, but rather a living neighbour with a century-old grudge.
- Heir Club for Men: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Tappan Hall actually belongs to Lady Barbara Booker's great-nephew due to an entail. Even so, he declines to be addressed by the title "Lord" while she's still alive, insisting that she should rightfully have it.
- Hello, Attorney!: Bill Willis had a beard, a paunch and thick horn-rimmed glasses when Lori met him. He lost all three and Lori describes him as being "quite literally, tall, dark and handsome." Cousin Gerald Willis, an attorney in the English branch of the family firm, is also described as a handsome man.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Nicholas Fox, Lilian Bunting's nephew, flees the meeting near the end of Aunt Dimity: Detective and stands in a thunderstorm without a coat. At first, Lori cannot get him to speak or take his coat, but she does manage to get him inside the vicarage and wrapped in a blanket before a fire. At length, he explains that he couldn't stand the villagers' callous attitudes toward Prunella Hooper's death from an accidental blow to the head. He worked as an undercover cop and saw his partner brutally beaten to death several months previously.
- Hope Is Scary: Bree's initial reaction to the news of her great-grand aunts' actual existence at the end of Aunt Dimity Down Under is best summed up this way. She learns from their attorney that they have revised their will and she will inherit everything they own, including the trust fund set up by their black sheep brother nearly a century before. She is reluctant at first to go along with the idea, but Lori and Cameron convince her to go to England and meet Ruth and Louise.
- Identical Twin ID Tag:
- Identical twins Ruth and Louise Pym are difficult to tell apart and always dress alike. Eventually, Lori realizes that Ruth (the elder) always speaks first, and that Louise is slightly more soft-spoken than her sister.
- Lori doesn't explicitly state how she can tell her sons apart, but in Aunt Dimity Digs In young Rainey Dawson claims to be able to see the difference in their souls by looking in their eyes, even citing a difference in colour: "Rob's is silvery blue and Will's is sort of golden.".
- Impoverished Patrician:
- Aunt Dimity and the Duke opens with just such a scenario: young Grayson has been upset to learn his impoverished father (the thirteenth Duke of Penford) has been selling off family heirlooms and dismissing staff, and he seeks advice from Dimity Westwood (still very much alive at this date, some twenty years before the rest of the book's events). Grayson himself grows up planning to restore his family's fortune, and does so by creating a crass rock musician alter ego with the help of his former staff. They make a fortune, then "kill off" the musician so they can retire to the ducal estate and live on income from the proceeds and other endeavours.
- When Lori and Bree dig in to Daisy Pickering's tale of the Lost Prince, Dimity confirms that some wealthy Russians fled to Britain in such a state, both directly after the Russian Revolution and during World War II. Also, the snobbish blue-blooded Boghwells make ends meet by renting out their creepy-looking estate to film crews for low-budget horror films.
- I'm Your Worst Nightmare: Early in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Bill shows Lori a printout of a threatening email he received earlier that morning, the latest in a series. The note came with photos of the cottage, Lori, their nanny Annelise and the twins on their ponies. The text reads:You came like a thief in the night to cast me into the abyss. You chained me in darkness, but no earthly chains can hold me anymore. I have risen.
Behold, I am coming soon to repay you for what you have done. All that you love will perish. I will strike your children dead and give your wife a like measure of torment and mourning. I have the keys to Death and Hades, and I will blot your name from the book of life forever.
Your nightmare has begun. There is no waking.
- In Defence Of Story Telling: The underlying Aesop for Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince: an imaginative little girl makes up stories about actual people she meets, and Lori takes her stories seriously enough to investigate, which permits all the happy results of the book Lady Barbara and Mikhail being reunited after so many decades, Skeaping Manor getting a sponsor and a proper security system, Bree meeting her favourite author and finding a bit of purpose in her new life, Tiffany and her children getting out of the city and discovering joy in life among others.
- Internal Reveal: Lori and Dimity together do this in Aunt Dimity's Death. Lori has just discovered Dimity is writing to her from beyond the grave, and Bill finds her just after the first time this happens. Lori tells him about it and shows him the journal page, which looks blank to him. Then Dimity writes something to Bill which only he can read. Later in the series, Lori demonstrates the journal link to Emma Harris, and Dimity addresses herself to her as well.
- Invented Individual: In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, the late Charles Alexander King aka Lex Rex was a persona invented by the duke and his staff in order to make money as a successful pop star. The duke has fun at Emma and Derek's expense by confessing to Lex Rex's murder before explaining that he wasn't real.
- Invisible Writing: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, young neighbour Bree Pym shows Lori's young twins how to write invisibly with lemon juice and reveal the messages with the heat of a lightbulb. It's part of her unexpected arsenal of talents for entertaining kids, a bag of tricks that includes juggling, acrobatics, yoga and sleight-of-hand magic.
- It's for a Book:
- When Lori goes to question George Wetherhead and Miranda Morrow in Aunt Dimity Digs In, she claims to be helping the vicar's wife with background for her book on the village's history.
- When Lori and Bree visit a series of large estates in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, they pose as journalists to interview the homeowners. Bree subsequently writes a couple of actual articles and shops them around to make amends for harbouring suspicions about them.
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The tongue-in-cheek opening sentence of Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil reads: "It was a dark and stormy afternoon on the high moors of Northumberland." Of course, at the time Lori is driving en route to an Old Dark House in Hostile Weather...
- Jaw Drop: Lori is very apt to do this when given unexpected or astonishing information. Humourously related to her inability to conceal her feelings. She also looks forward to seeing Bill's jaw drop when she debuts a slinky black dress for the first dinner at Hailesham Park in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, but when the moment comes she's so preoccupied sizing up Gina Elstyn she doesn't actually notice his reaction.
- Just for the Heli of It:
- In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, the Duke of Penford (in Cornwall) provided the local physician with a helicopter for his use. Emma Porter learns of it from the estate mechanic. When she expresses surprise at the idea, he tells her, "Yes, well, Dr. Singh had to have one, and since the village needed him, His Grace got him his chopper." The chopper later comes in handy when the duke's cousin, fashion model Susannah Ashley-Woods is found unconscious from a head injury and airlifted to hospital in Portsmouth.
- In Aunt Dimity's Christmas, when a vagrant collapses unconscious in Lori and Bill's driveway, the couple bring him inside. Willis Sr. calls in an RAF rescue helicopter to transport the man to hospital in Oxford (in part because the roads were blocked after a blizzard). Various neighbours express astonishment when they repeatedly ask Lori, "Did you really call out the RAF to rescue a tramp?" Peggy Kitchen ("shopkeeper, postmistress, and undisputed mistress of Finch") roared, "In a helicopter! Seems the lap of luxury to me."
- Just Friends: In Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure, Lori finds a gold and garnet bracelet in the attic of her cottage and goes to the blue journal to ask Dimity about it. Dimity eventually reveals it was a gift from a young man who befriended her just after World War II, and that he gave it to her and declared his love for her after she had given him a stuffed badger. Dimity was taken by surprise (thinking they were only this trope), plus she was mourning her fiancé and couldn't return his feelings; she says, "I could do nothing but gape at him like an addled goldfish." He left the cafe abruptly, and though she searched for him in an attempt to explain, she lived out her life without finding him and asks Lori to do so.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: A major factor in the resolution of Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. A wealthy young woman loses her betrothed at Dunkirk and turns her country home into a convalescent hospital for other troops. A valuable diamond parurenote goes missing, and she is written off as crazy when she lodges her complaints with the military authorities. She gradually retreats into her own world, spending much of her time and dwindling resources on writing letters to Americans she thought were the thieves until her death. It turns out two American servicemen did steal the jewels, but fearing exposure, they hide the pieces for decades, and their children, disillusioned by the revelation, pose as stranded hikers to secretly enter the estate and return the full set.
- Kitchen Sink Included: In Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon, Bill lifts the day pack Lori prepared for the family outing to the opening day of King Wilfrid's Faire and gives a low whistle:"I hope you remembered to put the kitchen sink in here," he said. "We may have to wash King Wilfrid's dishes before the day is through."
"I knew I forgot something," I said, snapping my fingers. "Wait here. I'll run in and get the sink."
- Knight in Shining Armor: There are occasional references to upstanding men as this trope, especially when they demonstrate their goodness openly. Also, among Lori and Bill's wedding gifts is a portrait of Bill on horseback and wearing armour—and his glasses.
- Lame Pun Reaction: When Lori asks Bill how he got the irises (see the Flower Motifs example above), he starts to reply, "Where there's a Willis—". Lori groans to cut him off.
- The Lost Lenore: Derek Harris' first wife Mary is this in Aunt Dimity and the Duke. The novel takes place over five years after her death from pneumonia, and the Duke's reference to the horrors of death by drowning triggers a flashback for Derek. He throws himself into his work, with young Peter covering for his absences and for the drunken housekeeper Derek unwittingly hired. Most of his character development involves his recovery and the budding romance between him and Emma Porter.
- Ma'am Shock: Early in Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Emma is addressed as "ma'am" several times by a young man on staff at Bransley Manor, the first stop on her planned garden tour. She's making the trip to Cornwall alone, since her companion of fifteen years has just married a younger woman, leaving her a single and (self-described) frumpy forty-year-old woman.It was the constantly reiterated "ma'am" that did it. He might as well call me "Granny," Emma thought.
- MacGuffins everywhere you look:
- Dismantled MacGuffin: The self-lighting lantern that figures in the Penford family legend is disassembled and hidden in the finial of a birdcage arbour in the garden by Grayson's grandmother for safekeeping. Derek spends a portion of the novel searching for it, thereby stumbling on evidence that Grayson was involved in the career and "death" of rock star Lex Rex. Despite being in pieces, it lights by itself during the climactic storm in Aunt Dimity and the Duke.
- Living MacGuffin:
- Willis Sr. is pursued over various locations (as far as Yorkshire) in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed. His uncharacteristically abrupt departure and cryptically brief note spark concern in Lori's mind.
- Bree Pym is this for Lori and Bill's college chum Cameron; they spend most of the novel Aunt Dimity Down Under pursuing the girl over New Zealand's North and South Islands to deliver the Pym sisters' letter and convince her to meet Ruth and Louise before they die.
- Memento MacGuffin: The Peacock Parure in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound wasn't simply the DeClerke family jewels, it was a reminder of the suitor Lucasta DeClerke lost in World War II—hence her deep distress when it was stolen.
- Stolen MacGuffin Reveal: In Aunt Dimity: Snowbound, the hikers prove to be the offspring of the American G.I.s who stole the Peacock Parure. They have the jewels with them, and the plot goes from locating them to returning them to their proper location.
- Madwoman in the Attic: Lori's working hypothesis explaining the creepy-looking vampire the twins saw in the woods turns on this idea; she thinks the neighbouring DuCaral family had a crazy son they kept in the house rather than an asylum, and the man escaped (possibly more than once) and stood in the woods watching the boys.
- Magic A Is Magic A: The rules for Aunt Dimty's contact with Lori aren't explicitly spelled out; even Dimity herself claims not to understand the precise mechanics of the thing. Certain things may be deduced from the books, however.
"With all due modesty, my dear, I very much doubt that Mrs. Hooper and I are in the same place. A woman who would treat Kit so cruelly would almost certainly spend eternity in a location with which I, thankfully, have no contact whatsoever."
- Dimity seems to adhere to the rule about ghosts haunting a certain place (her cottage), yet she is also deeply associated with her journal, to the point that she can travel with another character if the journal does. Lori helps her uphold this rule in Aunt Dimity Digs In by taking the journal to the Harvest Festival, including the unveiling of the renovated war memorial with Piero Sciaparelli's name added to the roster.
- Dimity is not omniscient; Lori must tell her (via the journal) about the events she witnesses and the things she does. Similarly, Dimity doesn't speak to Lori outside of the journal's pages, though occasionally Reginald is moved into a key position, or else Dimity will move the journal or leave a loose page from it to initiate a conversation.
- Dimity's writing disappears at the end of each conversation with Lori (or Bill or Emma, as the case may be). Thus, the secret is easily maintained (anyone else who opens the journal thinks it's blank), and there's no limit on the number of conversations Dimity can have.
- Dimity seems to be in some sort of stopover or holding area in the after life. Aside from joining with her beloved Bobby for a time, she expresses a willingness to remain as she is, so as to be available to advise Lori. As she points out, she has all eternity ahead of her, so she can spare the time, even if it proves to be the rest of Lori's lifetime.
- Lori's contact with Dimity makes her more susceptible to contact from other ghosts. When the ghost of Claire Byrd possesses Lori in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, Dimity confirms this: "Your relationship with me has made you vulnerable. Once the door is opened between the living and the dead, there's no telling who will come through. We're not all of us charming, sensible, and sane, you know. Some of us are quite mad." Several years later, in Aunt Dimity Goes West, the ghost of Cyril Pennyfeather suggests this was the reason he was able to follow Lori from the Aerie (which was built over the mine where his body lies) and finally see his own memorial and Hannah's grave in the local cemetery, as well as be seen by the local psychic in her shop.
- Dimity knows when other ghosts are in Lori's vicinity, and she can contact some ghosts on the other side. When Lori asks her about the ghostly lights she sees in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Dimity agrees to "make inquiries" and find out if either Brother Cieran or the tenth Earl of Strathcairn is responsible. There are limits, however; when Lori suggests asking Prunella Hooper directly about her death, Dimity says,
- The Maiden Name Debate: Lori retains her maiden name (Shepherd) after she marries, and is often found correcting people who call her "Mrs. Willis". That said, she is characteristically upbeat about the matter, and will ask people to call her "Lori".
- Malicious Slander: Prunella Hooper is the source of a vile rumour in Aunt Dimity: Detective: namely, that Kit Smith, the Harrises' stable master, had encouraged their adolescent daughter Nell's crush. The worst version had him being caught in the act of abusing her. Naturally, when Prunella is found dead, the police concentrate on Kit as a prime suspect. In fact, Nell is a remarkably self-possessed and mature young woman (like her brother, she finished her university studies early), and though she did set her cap for him from the age of fifteen, he actively resists the idea for several years.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: This figures in the backstory of Kit Smith, but it isn't revealed until many years after the fact. The truth his father was neighbour and family friend Christopher DuCaral is actually something of a relief, since Kit thought insanity ran in his genetic heritage and refused to marry anyone to avoid passing it on. On confirming the news, he goes to his long-time love Nell Harris, helps her down from her horse at the riding school, and kisses her.
- The Matchmaker: Another tradition that is passed on:
- Dimity is a highly skilled one. In life, she introduced Lori's parents, she presciently told a then-twelve year old Bill Willis that he and Lori would wed, and has a hand in pairing Emma and Derek (then a widower with two children). After death, she orchestrates an encounter between Lori's first nanny Francesca and archaeologist Dr. Culver, with Reginald ably assisting.
- Lori brings together the late Miss Beacham's assistant and her downstairs neighbour in Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, and she tries to encourage Kit to marry Nell in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In some stories, "ghostly" happenings (unexplained sounds, objects that seem to have moved unaided) are actually caused by living people or gadgetry. In other stories, the house really is haunted.
- Meaningful Funeral: The Pym sisters' funeral is so heavily attended that The Vicar has to hook up loudpseakers (since St. George's is filled over capacity), and the graves are marked with Day-Glo flags to keep people from falling into the holes. The New Testament readings and the closing hymn were favourites of theirs. Bree Pym introduces herself to the locals in her brash but brief funeral oration, and Rev. Bunting reads a message from the sisters to the villagers: "Dear friends and neighbours. If you fail to show our great-grandniece the same loving kindness you have always shown us, we will smite you."
- Meaningful Name: From time to time in the series:
- A finch is a songbird with a bouncing flight pattern. The village of Finch is a generally happy place full of gossipy residents, with gossip topics generally of the harmless variety.
- The Willises specialise in wills and estate planning.
- Lori's former boss, Dr. Stan Finderman, is asked to find some old ephemera (specifically, pamphlets) printed by a specific and obscure Victorian author.
- Peggy Kitchen marries Jasper Taxman and takes his surname. Jasper is a retired accountant, and Peggy 's demands (as the unofficial boss of Finch) can certainly be taxing.
- One of the hikers in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound is named Wendy Walker.
- In Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon, Jinks the jester says his name comes from "highjinks" rather than bad luck (a"jinx"). It turns out to be a bit of both, since he's responsible for the "accidents" at King Wilfrid's Faire.
- In Aunt Dimity Down Under, the attorney who explains Lori's task for the Pym sisters (reuniting them with their long-estranged brother's family) is named Fortescue Makepeace.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Mikhail's Russian immigrant parents named their home Mirfield ("Mir" means "peace" in Russian). They left Russia within a decade of the 1917 Revolution. Also, the Thames' Shangri-La was originally named Whiting Hall, and they made their money selling fish ("whiting" is a common name given to several species of fish). The aptly-named Lady Barbara Booker pointedly says, "What's the point of living if I can't have fires and books?"
- Military Salute: Early in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, the manager of of the foundation thrift shop briskly rattles off instructions on how to sort through the latest batch of donated goods, noting in closing that she, Lori and Bree only have an hour to complete the work before the shop is due to open. In response, Bree performs one of these and replies, "Yes, ma'am."
- Mind over Matter: Dimity will sometimes initiate a conversation by making her journal fly off the shelf in the study. She will also place Reginald so as to draw Lori's attention to something or achieve some other goal.
- Mistaken Age: Early in Aunt Dimity: Detective, Lilian Bunting asks Lori to entertain her nephew "Nicky" while she and her husband attend Prunella Hooper's inquest. Lori expects to receive a visit from a small boy, and is surprised when thirty-something Nicholas Fox introduces himself.
- Mistaken for Aliens: Christine Peacock sees mysterious lights in a field near the vicarage in Aunt Dimity Digs In, and she's convinced she saw aliens land there. She's even more convinced when a circle of trampled-down grass is found on the spot the next morning. In fact, Sally Pyne and one of the archaeology students were exercising there at night, mostly because Sally was embarrassed to be seen exercising.
- Mistaken for Pedophile: Once Lori has found evidence someone was in the woods in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, she and her neighbours operate from the belief that a voyeur was watching the boys, possibly with pedophilic intent. Emma and Kit warn their staff at the riding school to increase their vigilance when their students use trails in the area. As it turns out, the person who wasn't even male wasn't watching the twins at all, but merely happened to be seen by them.
- The Mole: Jinks the Jester in Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon is quite helpful providing background information on King Wilfrid's Faire. Perhaps too helpful.
- Moment Killer: At the end of Aunt Dimity's Death, Bill tries to say those three little words, but he only gets the first two words out when he's interrupted by the sound of tires on the drive; he thinks it's the neighbour Emma Harris and the kids, but it proves to be his father Willis Sr., coming to complete the terms of Dimity's will.
- Moustache de Plume: A fictional inversion in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince: romance novelist Felix Chesterton writes under his wife's name (Frances Wylton). Frances explains to Bree and Lori that he thought his work would do better under her name, but his secret was exposed by a persistent fan, and his sales actually increased.
- The Munchausen: Miss Archer, the headmistress of Rob and Will's school in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, accuses the twins of this. Lori and Bill attend a meeting in her office, during which they confirm nearly all of their incredible-sounding stories. The bad man who drags the boys from a castle during a thunderstorm and tries to throw them in the sea? True, and written up in The Times. An invisible man taught them to curse? Also true he was actually in a mine tunnel under the floor of their room. A mountain exploding in the dead of night? Again, true that cursing man set a bomb in said mine shaft. So when the boys claim to have seen a figure that looks like a vampire depicted in a classmate's comic book, Lori believes them. Despite the event being written off by the other adults (even their riding instructor Kit Smith, who looked over the place the boys claim to have seen the figure), Lori wants to check it out for herself.
- My Local: Dick and Christine Peacock run the pub in Finch. Lori's husband Bill is a member of the darts team, and both she and Bill have eaten meals there (Christine is a cook with a famously greasy touch). The place has the typical mahogany-and-brass decor. While old Mr. Farnham says of it, "It's always been Peacock's pub and it'll always be Peacock's pub," the Peacocks flirt with the idea of renaming the place "The Green Men" and have a sign painted depicting a couple of the usual big-eyed aliens.
- Mysterious Note: A couple of these appear in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, and the recipient had received others before the novel opens. The notes' author employs the classic pasted-letters-cut-from-printed-material technique. Dimity also tells Lori she received such notes herself during her lifetime; they proved to be from a member of her charitable foundation's staff.
Tropes N Through O
- Nervous Wreck: Lori reacts to motherhood this way in Aunt Dimity Digs In. In an exaggerated bid to childproof the cottage, she fastens the kitchen cabinet doors so securely that no one can open them, padlocks the medicine cabinet and misplaces the key, and covers the edges of the coffee and end tables with miles of cotton batting. Ultimately, Bill finds her trying to wrestle their mattress out of its frame and onto the floor so the boys cannot crawl under it, although their little knees have yet to touch the carpet. Though she does calm down with time (and the services of a couple of nannies), Lori is still apt to react badly to the idea that her sons could get hurt, and the start of their schooling at Morningside in Upper Deeping sets off another crisis in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter.
- Nice Hat: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, when Lori and Bree dress their parts as journalists, Lori tells the reader: "I followed her example and slipped into my old beige trench coat, wishing I had a fedora to complete the look. Instead, I pulled on a rather fetching brown velvet beret I'd picked up for a song at a church jumble sale."
- Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: After their early meeting with the school headmistress in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, Bill and Lori sit the boys down for a talk about the vampire they claim to have seen. At Bill's request, Will takes up his crayons and draws a picture of it: a thin and pale vampire figure with "canines like stalactites", a voluminous black cloak with a red lining, a cloud of bats around its head, and a lightning bolt in the sky overhead. Lori sums is up this way, "Although the drawing was primitive, it was powerful enough to give me nightmares."
- Non-Idle Rich: A recurring theme in the series:
- Dimity founded and ran her Westwood Trust ("an umbrella organization for a number of different charities"), which Lori later heads in her place.
- Both Lori and Dimity also did hands-on volunteer work; some of the novels' plots involve such work.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Grayson's grandmother (wife of the twelfth Duke of Penford) was on the board of Dimity's trust, and the secretly wealthy members of Grayson's staff include a novelist and a fashion designer.
- In Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, Simon Elstyn, a nephew of the Earl and a cousin of Derek's, "sat on the boards of at least three corporations and twice as many charities."
- Derek Harris took a first in history at Oxford (equivalent to summa cum laude Lat. in the US) and built a thriving restoration business before he and Emma started a riding school at their restored manor home.
- Peter Harris took three university degrees, paddled on the Amazon, and studied an active volcano, among other things. This adventuresome habit creates a problem for him and for Cassie Cassandra Thorpe-Lynton, whose father sits in the House of Lords. They were working for a Seal Conservation Trust when their proud families publicized their doings, drawing such excessive media attention that they went into hiding as birdwatchers on Erinskil.
- No Time to Explain: At the start of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Willis Sr. abruptly leaves Lori's cottage after writing note to her that's uncharacteristically short on details, citing this trope. At first, Lori thinks it's a joke Nell played, but Nell points to the absence of the blue journal and Reginald. Dimity has left behind a second note, which has some additional information, but it ends in mid-sentence. This sets up the pursuit of Willis Sr. throughout the rest of the novel. When Nell points this out, Wiilis Sr. pleads "high spirits" at just receiving the news that Lori is pregnant.
- Not in Front of the Kid: With a bright pair of twins in the family, this looks likely to become a Running Gag:
- In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Sir Percy takes Lori and her five-year-old twins to his island castle. When Lori is asking a member of Sir Percy's staff about his experience with children, Sir Percy intervenes, saying, "Andrew's also had specialized training that fits him for the job. Damian and I will tell you all about it after Rob and Will leave."
- In Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, Lori tries to warn Bill off a secret topic by saying, "Pas devant les infants," only to have her son Will ask, "What's 'not in front of the children'?" His twin brother Rob informs her that Nell is teaching them French.
- Not with Them for the Money: Early in Aunt Dimity's Death, Lori is mortified and angry that Bill took it upon himself to buy her a new wardrobe without consulting her. (She doesn't yet know she will inherit Dimity's entire fortune.) Not relishing the role of Cinderella, she refuses the clothes with a major rant:"But you wouldn't know about that. You have servants. Well, let me fill you in. The grocery is the place where you go when you have enough money to buy maybe three cans of soup, right? It's the place where the express register is always just closing when you get there, so you and your tomato soup wind up in the regular checkout line, where you're invariably stuck behind the illiterate lady with the coupons for the things that are almost the same as the things she has in her cart. And you have to stand there juggling soup cans while she argues every pounce, ounce, liter, and gram, and you don't want to be rude, because she has blue hair and she's probably living on dog food, but you also want to scream, because you'd think that just once she could manage to bring a coupon for the right brand of dog food. Heaven knows it's important to wear the proper dress for moments like that. That blue silk number in the back should be just right."
- Nouveau Riche: The Thames' in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince. Husband Tony is a Self-Made Man who built up the family's fish firm into a household name. While Bree approvingly describes their home (renamed "Shangri-la") as "the 1870s meets the 1970s", Lori is less taken with the look. Wife Gracie is also depicted as overdone in clothing, shoes, hair and makeup, but she is far kinder than the blue-blooded Boghwells.
- Obstructive Vigilantism: This is Dimity's working hypothesis to explain the villagers' behaviour after the malicious Prunella Hooper is found dead in Aunt Dimity: Detective:My guess—and it is an educated one—is that the good people of Finch don't want the murderer to be caught. They believe that a contemptible woman got what she deserved, they know who the culprit is, and they've agreed to close ranks in order to protect one of their own.
- Oh Crap!: Happens with varying degrees of comedy and drama. Notable examples include:
- In Aunt Dimity Detective, when Lori learns the police have Kit pegged as a likely suspect in Prunella Hooper's murder and are questioning him about it. Gossip ceases to be a jolly pastime when it might land a good friend in jail.
- Likely the biggest one to date is the moment at the end of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea when Lori returns to her suite in Dundrillin Castle after she and Damian Hunter get the relatively innocuous explanation of the island's prosperity from Sir Percy and the island's elders. She sees the mirror door to the emergency stairs standing open (sans alarm) with Reginald and a toy soldier on the floor near the doorway. Then she comes into the room, sees the footprints in the dust and hears her son Will cry out "Mummy!" Realizing the crazy stalker has her sons, she follows him down the stairs and out into a Force 9 gale.
- Played for Laughs in Aunt Dimity Down Under when Lori experiences her first earthquake while she and Cameron are visiting an art gallery in search of Bree Pym. At first, she doesn't understand what's happening, then after she's told, she can't understand why the locals are so calm as they wait it out under the furniture.
- Also Played for Laughs when Kit extracts his condition from Lori in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter: Lori must promise to take riding lessons despite being afraid of horses.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sally Pyne's "Lady Sarah" accent in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree "hovered precariously between the queen's and a fishmonger's." Willis Sr. could only say of it, "I cannot bring myself to discuss her accent except to say that it is strikingly original. I do not believe that it has ever been heard before on this or any other planet."
- On One Condition: Lori is given thirty days to research Dimity's letters and write the introduction, with attorney Willis Sr. checking up on her progress via phone and Bill accompanying her to England. The condition isn't particularly onerous, since she not only has help, but her expenses are fully covered, including anything that might distract her (like her credit card bills).
- Open Secret: Since the inhabitants of Finch and its environs are prone to gossip, most so-called secrets are quite open, or become open in short order.
- Our Ghosts Are Different: As noted above, Dimity fills the role of Spirit Advisor to Lori and occasionally others. In some of the books, there's some unfinished business that must be dealt with, generally with the help of Lori and others.
Tropes P Through R
- Personal Effects Reveal: Also apt to happen when coping with deceased characters:
- In addition to finding the correspondence between her mother and Dimity, Lori also finds a heart-shaped locket in a box with an initial on the lid. She mistakes the letter for a "W" for Dimity's surname, when it was actually an "M" for Bobby MacLaren's.
- Fr. Bright and Lori go through the knapsack that was found on the vagrant who collapsed in the cottage's driveway. They follow the clues in the military decorations and other items to learn more about the man, who proves to be Christpher Anscombe-Smith, known as "Kit".
- When Lori enters Miss Beacham's apartment in response to her dying instructions, she is shocked to find the flat opulently furnished with antiques. She also finds a family photo album that shows the gradual decline of Miss Beacham's family.
- Ruth and Louise Pym find a letter from their older brother announcing the birth of his son many decades after the deaths of their brother (who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915) and their parents. This find prompts them to ask Lori to locate their brother's family before they die.
- Lori and Cameron enter the apartment of the recently deceased A.J. and Edmund Pym in search of information on them and Edmund's daughter Bree. They find some old family photographs of Aubrey senior and his wife, Aubrey and A.J. at A.J.'s baptism, as well as Edmund, his wife, and young Bree herself.
- Plot Detour: In the novel Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Lori hears of a previously unmentioned neighbour whose property borders on her father-in-law's. She intends to ask her neighbours about him, since she's lived in the area a decade and never heard him mentioned. Prime oportunities to query the residents of Finch slip past repeatedly, partly because she has her new infant daughter, and partly because she wants to rejoin the social circle (or gossip circle) of Finch (having spent recent months at home with said infant). It is fairly late in the book before she even hears of a well-known and long-standing feud between the residents of Finch and those of a nearby village, a feud which centers around this mysterious neighbour.
- Plot-Triggering Death: Aunt Dimity's starts the whole series.
- Plucky Girl: Lori retains this spirit, even as she ages into her thirties as a wife and mother. More worldly characters frequently refer to her optimism and her determination.
- Point of View: Most of the books have Lori as the First Person Narrator. Aunt Dimity and the Duke, which focuses on Emma Porter, is written in Third Person Limited.
- The Pratfall: Some of the series' comedy is physical:
- Emma and Lori go for a walk in Aunt Dimity Digs In and wade in a nearby stream to cool off until Emma's dog Ham bounds in to join them, causing them to flail for balance and land in the water. At least they got cooled off.
- In Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, Lori tries very hard to remain upright while following Kit down a steep hillside, only to land on her rump in Gypsy Hollow. Kit teasingly suggests renaming the place "Lori's Bottom".
- Early in Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure, Lori is in her dusty attic to retrieve a blender for new neighbours from among the many duplicate wedding gifts she and Bill have stored there when she sneezes, and the jerk of her hands topples the boxed small appliances "knocking me onto my bottom but doing no real harm until a plummeting juicer struck the flashlight and sent it spinning around the old trunk and into the dark corner."
- Prequel: Emma and Derek Harris are introduced in the first book (Aunt Dimity's Death) as a married couple, renovaters and caretakers of Aunt Dimity's cottage; the second book (Aunt Dimity and the Duke) details how they first met.
- Posthumous Character: Lori's mother Beth is revealed in Lori's recollections and a thorough review of her decades-long correspondence with Dimity in Aunt Dimity's Death.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Dimity's reaction when Lori first informs her of Prunella Hooper's death, rendered in letters that take up nearly half the page: "MURDER? IN FINCH?!?"
- Punny Name: In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Sir Percy tells Lori he bought his Scottish castle after he left the oil business, and named it "Dundrillin Castle" on that account.
- Rags to Riches: Lori starts Aunt Dimity's Death working as a temp and having lived in a succession of cheap apartments after her divorce. Most of her things are in boxes, and she sleeps on a mattress on the floor. She describes her feelings on seeing the Boston office of Dimity's American attorneys for the first time: "Great, I thought, Willis & Willis Meets the Little Match Girl." After coming into her inheritance, she at first displays a certain reluctance to spend money, but eventually is found consigning her old wardrobe to Oxfam in favour of items like silk-lined custom trousers, handmade Italian boots, and a sumptuous black cashmere swing coat. "I'd never been a clotheshorse, but I was learning fast."
- Rain, Rain, Go Away: In Aunt Dimity's Death, an extended rainstorm gives way to three days of dense fog. Aside from visits to and from neighbour Emma Harris, Lori and Bill remain at the cottage, postponing an expedition to a location in a photograph Lori's mother left her.
- Real Dreams Are Weirder: In Aunt Dimity Goes West, Lori goes from the recurring nightmare of being shot and menaced by Abaddon (back in Finch) to dreaming of blue-eyed cocker spaniels, who remind her of the Colorado cabin's young caretaker Toby.
- Red Herring: No mystery series would be complete without a few of these, including:
- In Aunt Dimity Digs In, after the pamphlet is stolen from the vicarage, Emma and Rainey clean the overgrown garden around the French doors and find a bronze phalera just like the one Lori's nanny Francesca is seen to wear. It turns out the cleaning woman at the vicarage is her sister and had one as well, and anyway, she had no motive to steal the pamphlet, since she also wanted the archaeology team to leave the area.
- In Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, when Lori finds the children's books used to make the anonymous notes sent to Simon, she finds one of Nell's long blond hairs between the pages of one of them. It's later revealed that Nell had been in the supposedly long-unused nursery. In the same book, Lori seizes on the mention of the suspect's organ playing hobby to accuse a red-haired maid (who behaved in an unprofessional fashion by sitting down and playing the piano she was supposed to be dusting) of being the former nanny in disguise; the real culprit is a different staff member.
- Red October: As related in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Mikhail Markov's parents fled Soviet Russia in the wake of the Bolshevik takeover because his father was a silversmith who crafted art objects for the upper classes. Mikhail himself was born five months after the couple's eventual arrival in England.
- Retail Therapy: At the start of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, Emma is upset to learn her husband of ten years has kept his real name and title from her, and after Lori tells her that Bill has secretly been her noble father-in-law's attorney for three months, Emma says, "I'm tired of boys' games. Let's go shopping." Lori notes, "We spent the next week buying clothes." It seems to work; after getting a newly becoming haircut at a salon, Emma stops scolding Lori for addressing her as Viscountess.
- Romancing the Widow: Played straight and gender-inverted. After Willis Sr. moves to the Finch area, he is pursued by a quartet of older women that Bill nicknames "Father's Handmaidens"; a humorous four-way rivalry ensues. In Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, he begins paying court to newcomer Mrs. Amelia Thistle, and things get really complicated.
- Rule of Three: Humorous uses of this rule include people having to get Lori's attention by saying her name three times, each one progressively louder (Dimity has to write her efforts, the third and last one in ALL CAPS). Also, in the fire alarm farce late in Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, among those gathered in the entrance hall of Willis Sr.'s house is an elderly woman who sees no need to evacuate since she lit the fire in question. Willis Sr. steps forward to inquire who she is, and the Donovans burst in:"Aunt Augusta!" Deirdre cried.
"Aunt Augusta?" said Willis Sr.
"Aunt Augusta," Declan said, with a weary sigh.
- Scavenger Hunt: A hunt of the "preprinted clues" variety is one plot in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. A seventeenth-century rector wrote an account of a woman reputed to be a witch and hid pages of it in locations in and around the village. Mrs. Amelia Thistle has the first page, left to her by her late brother, and comes to Finch to find the rest. Each page has a graphic clue to the location of the next, and Lori and other residents join in the search for the successive pages and help decipher the clues.
- Secret Keeper: One ongoing example and two plot-specific ones:
- Bill, Emma and Derek know about Dimity's ongoing contact with Lori via the journal (Bill and Emma have actually experienced it for themselves). To date, they have not shared this info with anyone other than Nell and Kit; oddly, even Dimity's former attorney Willis Sr. is out of the loop.
- Gerald Willis in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed guards the remains of Sybilla Markham Willis and the journal of her brother-in-law's conversations with the dead Sybilla (after he killed her for marrying his younger brother). They were passed from father to eldest son for some three hundred years.
- A major plot resolution in Aunt Dimity Digs In. Many years earlier, Italian POW Piero Sciaparelli worked for old Mr. Hodge on his farm and found an ancient Roman grave in the floor of the stables. When his daughter Francesca became engaged to young Burt Hodge, her father entrusted her with the location of it so she could protect it from vandals and archaeologists, and he gave her a replica of the bronze phalera to wear as a pendant. Later on, her younger sister Annunzia or "Annie" married Burt and took over the primary role of protector even getting her own phalera. Anxieties over which of the two might reveal the secret (the elder sister dating the archaeologist or the younger trying to save a drought-stricken farm from total ruin) drive the family animosity.
- Self-Deprecation: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Dimity are discussing the diverse exhibits at Skeaping Manor when Dimity writes: "You and I are living proof—more or less—that some people prefer the pretty to the icky."
- Series Continuity Error: In Aunt Dimity's Death, Bill tells Lori that his mother was struck and killed by a bus when he was twelve, even giving this as the reason his father avoids public transport. In Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, Jane Willis is said to have died after a long bout of cancer. Unlike the backstory of Derek Harris and his fraught relationship with his father, there is no secret that Willis Sr. kept from his son; the author readily admits this was a mistake on her part.
- Sexy Priest: Father Julian Bright, the advocate for the homeless introduced in Aunt Dimity's Christmas.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Bill and his father are noted to dress this way, with Willis Sr. retaining his sartorial habits into his retirement.
- Shed the Family Name: Derek Harris so despised his father that he changed his entire name; he was born Anthony Evelyn Armstrong Seton, Viscount Hailesham. The change is also meaningful since he took the name of the estate's carpenter and he prefers to work with his hands, which is is considered unsuitable for a peer's son.
- Shifting Voice Of Madness: At the climactic Elstyn family meeting in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, only Simon, the recipient of the threatening notes, takes a cup of tea offered by the maid. That maid is revealed to be Derek's insane former nanny, who targeted Simon in the belief that he was trying to take Derek's inheritance. She rambles insanely about Simon: "I tried to warn him, but he wouldn't listen. Won't listen must be made to listen." And follows that with a Stage Whisper order to Derek: "Make him drink his tea...." Once she leaves the room, an Inspector from Scotland Yard is disturbed enough by the behaviour that he asks everyone to avoid touching the teacup, since the police intend to have it analysed. Afterward, there is some speculation among the other characters about whether she will be legally judged insane.
- Shout-Out: Aside from the Dorothy Parker references above:
- In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Peter Harris, son of Lori's neighbour Derek disguises himself as a dark haired young man with glasses named "Harry Peters" to avoid hordes of reporters after his grandfather wrote a letter to The Times bragging about him. Hmm, a dark haired young man with glasses plagued by fame...
- In Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, a man named Brocklehurst who claims to be a pious prophet (hippie-style), yet dishonestly turns a great personal profit evokes the hypocritical clergyman headmaster and larcenous treasurer of Lowood School.
- In a Shout-Out that also serves as a Red Herring in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Sergei Sturgess proves to be thoroughly English: his mother named him (and his brothers Vaslav and Rudolf) for famous Russian ballet dancers she admired. Famous Kindly Vet and storyteller James Herriot created the Yorkshire native Farnon brothers (Sigfried and Tristan), whose father was a devoted fan of the composer Wagner and named his sons accordingly.
- Also in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori describes finding the sleigh-shaped saltcellar ("...when what to my wandering hand should appear") in a deft paraphrase of Clement Clarke Moore's poem.
- Significant Anagram: In Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, the surname of the owners of Aldercot Hall is DuCaral. Elderly recluse Lizzie Black spells the name and the anagram Dracula on the hearthstone with her fireplace poker during Lori's visit to her farmhouse.
- Simple Yet Opulent: Fairworth House, Willis Sr.'s Georgian-period home, is described this way, mostly due to its architecture and moderate size.
- Single-Minded Twins: Two sets!
- Ruth and Louise Pym, the elderly sisters who live in a cottage outside Finch. They not only dress alike, they finish each other's sentences such that conversation with them is like watching a tennis match.
- Rufus "Rufe" and Louis "Lou" Zimmer, another pair of elderly identical twins who also dress alike (with old-fashioned style) and give their listeners' neck muscles a workout. They're among the many residents of Bluebird, Colorado that Lori finds oddly familiar.
- Sins of Our Fathers: Invoked by the villain in Aunt Dimity Goes West: an immigrant Polish miner sells his claim to a mine for five thousand dollars, and the wealthy buyer makes over $200 million from the mine. Not only does the miner himself sabotage the mine, his great-great-grandson sets a bomb in the same mine, which runs under the cabin built on the site by the still-wealthy descendants.
- Sleeping Dummy: Late in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound: Having convinced the caretaker that she and Wendy are ill in bed, Lori arranges one of these with pillows so she can slip out and help the other hikers search the house. Wendy compliments her on the ruse, and Lori is pleased to have out-thought the rocket scientist for once.
- Small Town Boredom: As Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon opens, Lori and her neighbours are bored with their usual summer routine and welcome the arrival of King Wilfred's Faire. Once they have to deal with the traffic, litter, tourists and everything else, the usual routine doesn't seem so bad.
- Snowed-In: Used a couple of times:
- This, along with the man's medical condition, justifies Willis Sr.'s call for the RAF helicopter evacuation of the vagrant at the beginning of Aunt Dimity's Christmas.
- As indicated by the title, the plot of Aunt Dimity: Snowbound is started by a sudden blizzard.
- Solitary Sorceress: Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch has the residents of Finch learn of such a person who lived in the area centuries earlier when they go on a Treasure Hunt for the pages of a firsthand account of her.
- Speak in Unison: Late in Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure, the residents of Finch are viewing a display cabinet in the village hall. Peggy Taxman had been persuaded to donate an antique cabinet to house the items the villagers found with Mr. Hobson's metal detector, but in the end that cabinet was literally falling apart. The vicar's wife says, "I never thought I'd say it, but thank God for woodworm," and extols the modern virtues of the newly-purchased replacement. In response, Bill and Lori chorus, "Thank God for woodworm."
- Spiky Hair: Early in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Bree first arrives on Lori's doorstep with her hair dyed a fiery red and done in a spiky hairdo:Lori: Good grief. What have you done to your hair?Bree (turning head to one side): Like it?Lori: It looks like your head is on fire.Bree: Brilliant. Just the effect I was aiming for. I call it my portable hearth. There's nothing like red hair to take the edge off a cold snap.
- Bree is also a free spirit who likes challenging the stuffier residents of the village. She later says that when Peggy Taxman saw Bree's hair in church, Peggy gave her a look that "would have curdled milk." In Bree's estimation, this is a feature, not a bug.
- Spit Take: Lori does one of these when Jinks the jester vaults over her garden wall to introduce himself in Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon.
- Spot of Tea: Despite being born and raised in Chicago, Lori is a firm believer in the restorative effects of tea. Thanks to this and the Barsetshire setting, tea consumption is quite high in the series.
- The Storyteller: A number of characters do this, including:
- Lori's mother Beth and Dimity herself provide the tales that are to be published in Aunt Dimity's Death.
- Lori herself has to recount some of the "Aunt Dimity" stories to satisfy the terms of Dimity's will, including establishing her identity for Dimity's executor, Willis Sr.
- Bill regales his English Willis cousins with his recent adventures in Maine (negotiating a family dispute over a fishing rod and coping with a storm and power failure) to much laughter and applause.
- Sir Percy Pelham tells a number of stories over dinner at his castle, including the history of the castle's builder, the local legend of Brother Cieran, and a funny yarn about a tone-deaf Chinese goat-herder who loved to sing.
- Little Daisy Pickering proves to be a gifted and spellbinding storyteller working with true people and events in her life in Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince.
- Strawberry Shorthand: The innocent-yet-wise six-year-old Nell Harris in Aunt Dimity and the Duke is seen eating strawberries, and the book's recipe is for "Nell's Strawberry Tarts". Later, engaged lovers Emma and Derek are seen eating strawberries and drinking champagne at the long-awaited fête.
- Surprise Creepy: When unhappy or unpleasant truths intrude on the relatively peaceful lives of characters in the series, they often do so in this way. Open a box expecting to see maybe an heirloom—find fully dressed human remains. Heave a sigh a relief that the "murder" turns out to have been an accident—well, that's jolly nice, but your hero has just had a flashback on a real murder he witnessed and is near catatonic. Similar mood dynamics occur when solutions are given and the culprit turns out to be obsessed and/or insane.
- Surprise Pregnancy: Lori is so busy tracking down Willis Sr. in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed that she fails to appreciate the significance of her cravings and morning sickness until Willis Sr. relays the phone message he got from her doctor.
- Survivor Guilt: At the end of Aunt Dimity's Christmas, it is revealed that Sir Miles Anscombe committed suicide on the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, due to his guilt over his bombing runs on that city and other civilian areas in WWII.
- Symbiotic Possession: In Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, Lori finds she's being possessed by the ghost of a young woman who died in the house where she's working. After some difficulties, including awkward moments with a handsome neighbour, Lori decides to help resolve the old issue troubling her new ghostly companion.
Tropes T Through U
- Tampering with Food and Drink: At the climactic Elstyn family meeting in Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, only Simon, the recipient of the threatening notes, takes a cup of tea offered by the maid. That maid is revealed to be Derek's insane former nanny, who targeted Simon in the belief that he was trying to take Derek's inheritance. She says of Simon: "I tried to warn him, but he wouldn't listen. Won't listen must be made to listen." Then she audibly whispers to Derek: "Make him drink his tea...." After she leaves the room, an Inspector from Scotland Yard asks everyone to avoid touching the teacup, since the police intend to have it analysed.
- Teen Pregnancy: This is revealed to be the reason Prunella Hooper was able to blackmail Peggy Taxman. Peggy was fifteen when she met a brash young American serviceman, and she had his baby shortly after he was killed by an exploding piece or ordinance leftover from WWII. She is reunited with her son over fifty years later.
- Tempting Fate: When Emma is describing the hiking trail she's urging Lori to take at the opening of Aunt Dimity: Snowbound, she is excessively optimistic:"I'll put in a map of the trail." Emma leaned forward and patted my arm. "But I promise you, you won't get lost this time. Honestly, it's a simple, straightforward route. There's only one turning, and," she sailed on, blithely uttering the curse that had doomed travellers for centuries, "you can't miss it."
- There Should Be a Law: Alluded to in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. Fearing dire possibilities if the Bowenists come to Finch and actually settle there, Lori's neighbours Charles and Grant suggest she consult her husband Bill on potential legal remedies. Bill tells Lori that certain things are illegal (loitering, harassment, and so forth), but there's no legal way to prevent the New Age cultists from coming to Finch or buying property in the area.
- Think in Text: Dimity's dialogue is rendered in italics. In Aunt Dimity Goes West, the ghost of Cyril Pennyfeather also communicates via Dimity's journal, and his dialogue appears in a distinctive font.
- Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: In Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Uncle Williston thinks Nell Harris is Sybella Markham Willis. Then again, he also thinks he's his own ancestor.
- To Absent Friends: A toast is drunk to the deceased tenth Earl of Strathcairn in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea. The villagers have great respect for him, and the digging of his grave unearthed the treasure that allowed to islanders to not only save their community, but also prosper there.
- Together in Death: Happens a few times:
- Dimity tells Lori that she and her fiancé Robert MacLaren celebrated their honeymoon in the afterlife. This and an unwillingness to meddle in Lori's life are the reasons she gives for her two-year absence.
- Willis Sr. arranges for Sybella Markham Willis' remains to be buried in the family plot along with those of her husband, the ancestor of the American branch of the Willis family.
- At the end of Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, one of the ruby rings found in Major Ted's head vanishes from its display, and the portrait of Claire Byrd shows her wearing a ring just like it on the third finger of her left hand. Lori tells Adam Chase Claire's grandson, "Don't you get it? They've finally said their vows."
- Tomboyish Name: The Pym sisters' great-grandniece is named Aubrey Aroha Pym (she's descended from their older brother Aubrey Jeremiah Pym). She is commonly called "Bree".
- The Tourney: King Wilfrid's Faire stages a tourney daily in Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon. Lilian Bunting enthusiastically notes it is complete with the melee.
- Tree Cover: Sometimes used for comic effect, sometimes not.
- It is revealed late in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea that Abaddon camps out in the cottage's hedgerow to directly spy on Bill's family. Lori and Bill discuss removing the hedges for safety's sake, but ultimately decide against it.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, Rainey Dawson hides in the bushes near Willis Sr.'s house during the housewarming party. When Lori goes outside for a breath of air, Rainey takes her by surprise. Rainey came there to secretly enlist her aid for her grandmother Sally Pyne, whose tall tales have caught up with her.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Bree are leaving Tappan Hall after being told Lady Barbara is just back from hospital and too ill to receive visitors when Barb herself hisses at them from her hiding place in the bushes. She's violating doctor's orders by being out of her specially-fitted bedroom (no dusty books and no ashy fires), and she invites Lori and Bree into her book-filled study, leading the way with her oxygen tank in tow.
- Twin Banter: Lori's sons Will and Rob will do this a fair amount, sometimes with just a simple one-upmanship , sometimes in a larger succession. Their request to visit Skeaping Manor's museum prompts this exchange:Lori: Yes, we'll go. If—Will: We clear the table.Rob: And load the dishwasher.Will: And play nicely until bedtime.Rob: And go to bed without arguing.Will: And promise to behave ourselves in the car.Lori (laughing): How quickly they learn.
- Twin Desynch: In a mild version of this trope, when Lori returns to Finch with Bree Pym near the end of Aunt Dimity Down Under, Ruth and Louise Pym ask to see both of them. After the introductions, Ruth and Louise turn to Lori and drop their lifetime ping-pong speech habit to each thank Lori individually. Lori notes:It was the first time I'd heard them speak as individuals. I was so surprised, and so deeply touched, that I nearly forgot my manners, but I managed to blurt an inadequate, "You're welcome."
- Unexpected Inheritance:
- As noted above, the series begins with Lori getting one of these from someone she thought was fictional; it's a double surprise when she fulfills the terms of the will and doesn't simply get the ten grand, but Dimity's entire fortune and the cottage.
- A whole raft of these are revealed after Miss Beacham's passing in Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin; among the recipients are not just Lori (who visited her in hospital) and Fr. Bright (whose homeless shelter Lori mentioned to her), but also a nurse who had leftover student debt and several local small business owners in her Oxford neighbourhood.
- In Aunt Dimity Down Under, Lori brings Bree back with her from New Zealand to visit Ruth and Louise Pym before they die, and they have revised their wills to leave their house and a substantial trust fund to Bree.
- Unsuspectingly Soused: Bill tries to get out of Morris dancing at the next village festival in exchange for helping Peggy Kitchen get rid of the archaeologist in Aunt Dimity Digs In. Peggy offers mead judging as a less time-consuming alternative; when Bill protests that he knows nothing about mead, she has publican Dick Peacock offer him samples—of twelve different kinds of mead. Derek Harris has to persuade Bill off the pub floor, off Bill's bicycle, and into his pickup truck to get Bill home. Next morning, Bill is still green about the gills and occasionally vomiting, and Derek's wife Emma brings homemade thyme honey and strawberry leaf tea for his hangover.
- Unusual Euphemism: As part of an early skirmish against Mae Bowen's hippie fans, Peggy Taxman accuses one Bowenist of this in Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch. From her outraged response, he said something about her "petals", and she took it to mean her labia. Definitely Played for Laughs, but the laugh's on the cultist.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: The expat Americans Angelo and Renee Velesuonno knew Bree Pym since she was ten years old, and Angelo hangs this lampshade when they meet Lori and Cameron for dinner in Ohakune, New Zealand. His description of Bree: "Nice kid—good manners and sharp as a tack." The Velesuonnos go on to say they were shocked at the recent changes in her appearance, particularly the choppy haircut.
Tropes V Through Z
- Vampire Vords: Bill talks this way to tease Lori in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter.
- The Vicar: Rev. Theodore Bunting is grey-haired and generally mild mannered, but certainly not clueless. He and his wife Lilian frequently act as the villagers' conscience.
- The Villain Knows Where You Live: Early in Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Bill shows Lori a printout of a threatening email he received earlier that morning, the latest in a series. The note came with recent photos of the cottage, Lori, their nanny Annelise and the twins on their ponies. The text reads:You came like a thief in the night to cast me into the abyss. You chained me in darkness, but no earthly chains can hold me anymore. I have risen.Behold, I am coming soon to repay you for what you have done. All that you love will perish. I will strike your children dead and give your wife a like measure of torment and mourning. I have the keys to Death and Hades, and I will blot your name from the book of life forever.Your nightmare has begun. There is no waking.Abaddon
- War Refugees: In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Gracie Thames' husband Tony is a descendant of a Russian Jew who fled the Nazi invasion during WWII and settled in Britain. Tony's father changed the family name so British customers would buy their line of frozen fish. Also, Mikhail's parents fled Russia when the Bolsheviks came to power, settling in Britain five months before Mikhail was born.
- Wartime Wedding: Happened in the case of Lori's parents, and averted when Dimity broke her engagement with Bobby MacLaren. Both are traceable to the same underlying fact, namely the high risk of death in combat or as a victim of the Blitz.
- Will They or Won't They?: Lori's repeated flirtations with men other than her husband Bill are often handled this way. To date, nothing more than the occasional kiss has happened, but there have been a number of close calls, often when one or both characters have gotten wet from rain and need to dry off and/or warm up.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Nell Harris is widely known to be this. It's part of the reason her marriage to Kit Smith is widely accepted in the village, despite the difference in their ages. Lori hangs this lampshade in Aunt Dimity: Detective:"Nell had a fey quality that might make her seem childlike to the untrained eye, but those of us who knew her best had long since learned—sometimes to our cost—that she was wise beyond her years."
- Women Drivers: Lori's poor driving is something of a running joke in the series. She frankly admits to it, noting that the retired mechanic Mr. Barlow had "come to depend on the income he earned banging out the dents and retouching the scratches I tended to accumulate whenever I drove in England." The Range Rover Bill gives her and its replacement (after an accident due to a washed out road) are both canary yellow, with the colour choice said to be intended as a warning to other drivers.
- World War II: The war heavily figures in the series, although the books themselves are set in the present. Dimity Westwood and Lori's mother met and became friends in wartime London; following her mother's wishes expressed in a letter, Lori researches people in Dimity's past in the first book. Several of the residents of Finch were child evacuees who returned to live there as adults, and one Italian POW settled in the area, later fathering several children who appear in later books. In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Gracie Thames notes that she and her husband named three of their children for family members who were killed by the Nazis when Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
- You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Just after the first time Dimity uses the journal to communicate directly with Lori, Bill starts to say this and Lori cuts him off. He begins to insist he wasn't joking, and the penny drops as he realizes she isn't either.
- You Must Be Cold:
- Cousin Gerald Willis loans Lori his leather jacket in a draughty local church in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed. This involves some sexual tension, since Lori is questioning her marriage after her workaholic husband begged off their second honeymoon.
- Fleeing a stifling after-dinner conversation about makeup, Lori goes outdoors at Hailesham House in her evening gown. Unfortunately, it's an October evening and she's soon chilled. Simon Elstyn, a handsome and charming cousin, offers her his dinner jacket.
- You Should Have Died Instead: Late in Aunt Dimity's Christmas, Lady Haverford admits to provoking this in her brother Christopher Anscombe-Smith, known as variously as "Kit" and "Smitty", the vagrant who collapsed in Lori's driveway. He had questioned the glory of their father's actions in WWII, and the father compiled a memoir of his unit's bombing raids in an effort to explain himself to his son. Some ten years later, the father hanged himself and Lady Haverford blamed her brother for causing the suicide. The brother took this accusation to heart, gave away his wealth, lived as a vagrant, and performed a variety of good deeds along the way.
- Your Cheating Heart: After her marriage to Bill, Lori flirts with infidelity a number of times. "I'd never been unfaithful to him—in the strictest sense of the word—but Dimity knew that I'd had more than my share of close calls." In Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, she also worries that Bill may be having an affair with Georgina Elstyn, another of the Earl of Elstyn's attorneys.
- You're Drinking Breast Milk: An early conversation between a frazzled first-time mother Lori and her new nanny Francesca in Aunt Dimity Digs In:Lori: "Sorry I'm late."
Francesca: "No trouble. I spotted the bottles you'd left in the fridge—"
Lori: "Did you use the right ones?"
Francesca: "Would the ones labeled My Milk be the right ones?"
Lori: (Blushing) "Yes, well...Bill sort of mixed them up a few weeks ago and—"