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Literature / Aunt Dimity

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Cover art featuring Dimity's journal and Reginald (that's him behind the curtain).

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 

  • #01: 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.
  • #02: 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. The only book not to feature Lori herself. Featured recipe: Nell's Strawberry Tarts.
  • #03: 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.
  • #04: 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.
  • #05: 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.
  • #06: 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.
  • #07: 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.
  • #08: 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.
  • #09: 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.
  • #10: 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.
  • #11: 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.
  • #12: 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.
  • #13: 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.
  • #14: 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.
  • #15: 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.
  • #16: 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.
  • #17: 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.
  • #18: 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.
  • #19: 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.
  • #20: 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.
  • #21: 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.
  • #22: Aunt Dimity and the Widow's Curse (2017): Lori sets out to find the truth of the "widow's curse" after elderly Mrs. Craven reveals a startling secret about her first husband's death.
  • #23: Aunt Dimity and the King's Ransom (2018): A trip to the town of Rye leads Lori into an investigation of "The King's Ransom", a seemingly haunted inn.
  • #24: Aunt Dimity and the Heart of Gold (2019): Lori, Emma and mysterious new visitor Matilda "Tilly" Trout set out to find the truth behind a hidden area in Emma's home.
  • #25: Aunt Dimity and the Enchanted Cottage (2022): Lori, along with recent arrivals Tommy Prescott and Crispin Windle, sets out to identify the long-dead children buried near the remains of a Victorian woolen mill outside Finch.

Tropes used in this series include: