Nancy Atherton presses on with her ultra-cozy series of Aunt Dimity "mysteries", and I only put that in quotes because usually there is at least a murder or crime committed in a mystery novel. This series continues to entertain existing fans as well as anybody who decides they just don't want that much danger in the books they read. Atherton's latest, Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon, is pretty much more of the same, though with a bit more sinister atmosphere. Incidentally, given how Aunt Dimity works in this series, I would have loved it if she actually did slay a dragon - it would make a nice little fantasy tale. Be that as it may, this book succeeds even more so than some of the previous books, and I really enjoyed it.
Life in the sleepy English village of Finch goes on as it usually does. Local art competitions, "Best Decorated House" contests and the like all have to be organized so that the summer fun can be… the same as it is every year. That is until Calvin, the son of a local farmer, comes in to the town meeting announcing that this year will be different. This year, he and his compatriots are bringing a true Renaissance Faire to the village. Excitement flares, but as the Faire begins, local resident Lori Shepherd becoming increasingly convinced that somebody is trying to murder Calvin. Is it a case of intense romantic jealousy, or is Lori once again imagining things that aren't there?
What's this I see? Can that be…character development? Yes, Atherton builds on the success of Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter, developing Lori's character and actually changing her a bit. The previous book taught her a lesson about jumping to conclusions, when she was so worried about her sons going to school that she saw vampires or pedophiles around every corner. That lesson learned, she's increasingly unsure of herself, wondering whether she is leaping at shadows where there is no substance. As evidence grows that something really may be happening, she brings up her fears to the always-wise Aunt Dimity (for those unfamiliar with the series, Aunt Dimity has been dead for a few years but can interact with Lori through an old journal - Lori talks to the journal, and Dimity’s replies show up in glowing ink).
Atherton populates Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon with a bunch of quirky characters that most English Village novels have, but they are interesting to read about and you never actively want to put the book down. It's not so engrossing that you can't put it down, but there is nothing in the book that forces you to do so. One thing I always enjoy about Atherton's books is the characters, and this is another great example. She also captures the atmosphere of a Renaissance Faire quite accurately, at least from my limited experience.
Once again, I must warn all non-fans of the "cozy" mystery: stay FAR AWAY from this novel. Almost everybody is just so nice; even the "villain" of the piece (and I hate to actually use that word here) really isn't that bad a person. For once, there actually is a caddish character, but he's there more for atmosphere and humor than anything else. He does make for a delightful scene when Lori is trying to investigate the person who she is sure is the attempted murderer.
There are a couple of downsides to this novel. One is that Atherton makes Lori incredibly dim in a few spots, mainly in how she completely misses how one character is trying to seduce her. It actually becomes a plot (or at least motivational) point later in the novel, but it’s so obvious what he’s trying to do that even I caught it – and I'm not the most perceptive person when it comes to things like that.
The biggest problem, though, and it's a problem with most of the series, is that Aunt Dimity just doesn't do much. She's an interesting character with good insights, but it would be nice if she were more than just Lori's sounding board. In the previous three Dimity books I've read, she comes up with a crucial idea, comments on a dead character (of course the character didn't actually die in the book, as that would throw the entire series off-kilter!), and leads Lori around by the nose to teach her a lesson. This time, she really doesn't do anything at all. I wish she could become more involved in the series, in at least one book, but that obviously can't happen because it would actually require somebody to die first!
Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon is another good example of Atherton's writing, good if you're in the mood for an extremely light novel with interesting characters and a relatively thin plot. Don't expect too much substance, and you won't be disappointed. It's a nice way to spend a couple of hours before moving on to headier stuff. It's not a four-star novel compared to other novels or series, but for what it's trying to be, it does an excellent job.