When you stop
and think about it, every book starts out as a blank page. A tabula rasa, waiting for someone to think of an idea, put it
into words, and then write it down. I have spent countless hours staring at a blank page in a notebook or a computer screen,
waiting for inspiration to strike… I am not as fortunate, like Lori Shepherd, to have an Aunt Dimity to fill up the
pages of a blue leather notebook. Which is a dead (pardon the pun if you’re already familiar with the series) giveaway
and the key to Nancy Atherton’s amazing mystery series.
Set in the small rural village of Finch in the English Codswolds, each of the now twenty (and counting) novels
is a mini-cosmos depicting human nature at its best…and worst. The universal themes that transverse the series and
shroud each story include the effects of past actions on the present; family values and traditions; a smattering of English
history; and wonderfully uplifting (often moralistic) happy endings. Each is told with flavorful humor and the welcomed elements
of surprise plot twists. And, of course, sprinkled with the musings and wisdom of Aunt Dimity, who really isn’t a character
so much as a presence…
You see, Aunt Dimity
really isn’t Lori’s aunt. But she was her mother’s best friend and who, explained in the first novel Aunt Dimity's Death, has left Lori her a whole lot of money and a honey-colored cottage a mile or so from downtown (if you could call it
that) Finch; just over the humpback bridge spanning the Little Deeping River. Lori, of course, is the amateur sleuth who solves
and resolves all sorts of askewed circumstances in and around Finch with Dimity’s guidance, written from the vast beyond
in a large blue tome using calligraphical script, which only Lori can read...
At first, when explained to me by a dear friend and fellow avid reader, I thought the premise a bit bizarre.
I mean, why start a twenty-book series with the death of the eponymous title character? “Makes no sense,” I said.
“Try it,” my buddy urged. “Go to the library…try a few…” I took her advice and found
a whole shelf devoted to what is now my most favorite whimsy mystery writer, picked up three of her latest and settled in
for some delightful binge reading.
Finch is a
place I would love to actually live in right now. Which, in a spiritual and literary
sense, I have been for the past three days. It’s a friendly, laid-back village, with everyone being friends, knowing
everyone else’s business, but chipping in to help whenever, wherever help is needed. The homes are centuries old; its
history ripe with secrets and skeletons; its people delightful, diverse, down-to-earth, and varied. Exactly the sort of folk
I’d love to have as neighbors…and their community is my idea of a perfect retreat...the ideal getaway. The author,
who lives in Colorado Springs, writes in the first person, using a very chatty-Cathy style. It’s like sitting down with
a close friend you haven’t seen for a while and catching up on all the news over a cuppa (or two of Earl Grey).
Atherton’s characters are true-to-life, each with
their own quirks and back-stories. While each novel is a standalone enabling you to read them out of the order they were written,
the characters do grow and change as the series progresses. I first read three of the latter ones – Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, Aunt Dimity and the Summer King, Aunt Dimity and the Buried Treasure -- but now, having been totally immersed in Finch, I am eager to start the series from the beginning, which I
did last night. If, for no other reason, then to see how the residents of Finch progress. And what earlier conundrums Aunt
Dimity has guided Lori into solving.
So, if you
don’t see or hear from me in a while, it’s because I’ve "moved" to Finch, disappearing into the
pages of the Aunt Dimity (the paranormal detective) Mystery Series… meandering through the thoughts and ruminations
of Atherton’s and my own imagination. The perfect escape.
Won’t you join me?