My first two experiences with Nancy Athertonís Aunt Dimity books made me wonder if I would ever try another one. They are so light that even the term ďcozyĒ seems too harsh of a word for them. However, they are filled with quirky characters, are competently written, and are a bit of fun. Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter is the latest Dimity book, and I donít know if itís because I was in the right mood for it or if Iíve just finally accepted these books for what they are, but I have to say itís the best of the (admittedly small) bunch Iíve read.
Lori Shepherdís life in a small English village has just gotten a little scarier. Her twin 5-year-old boys, Will and Rob, have started school, and Loriís worried that something, anything, will happen to them. Sheís constantly worrying about them, to the detriment of her various activities around the village of Finch. So when they start telling stories of having seen a vicious vampire around the manor where they take riding lessons, her maternal instincts go into overdrive. Convinced thereís a vampire on the loose, or at least a pedophile observing her children, sheís determined to track him down and make sure her kids are safe. Oh, and thereís plenty of time to try and play matchmaker for a good friend as well. Her investigation will uncover a village secret and will mean she has to intrude upon a local family thatís kept to itself for 50 years. Sinister? You be the judge.
The problem for some people will be that the Aunt Dimity books are almost universally ďnice.Ē People may have secret agendas, but theyíre not driven by spite or malice. They have secrets, but theyíre mostly embarrassing ones. If they are bad, then theyíre probably going to be redeemed at some point. I mentioned in my review of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea that Loriís worldview is that everybody is nice. Here, Loriís motherly fears counteract that, but the book itself doesnít. While Atherton tries to build up the tension, experienced readers will always know that thereís something much softer behind everything, thus diluting it somewhat.
Thatís not to say that Atherton doesnít know how to deal with it to please her audience. Non-cozy fans can stay away, as you will find nothing here. But fans of the genre will find semi-interesting characters, a flighty protagonist (is that a requirement of the genre?), and a mystery where everything comes together if Atherton has bothered to mention it previously in the book. There are no red herrings in an Aunt Dimity book; if itís mentioned, itís important, or will at least be dealt with.
It helps that, this time around, Atherton has created a generally interesting situation. I loved crazy old Lizzie, with her monster stories about the history of the village, and I also found the DuCaral family intriguing as well. Loriís fears are actually quite funny - theyíre so over the top, and she is never able to quite admit to herself that she is taking the vampire story at face value. Itís amazing what fear for their children will do to otherwise rational mothers, and Atherton demonstrates that superbly with Lori. The rest of the more than incidental characters have a certain depth thatís nice to see in an otherwise superficial genre.
For once, Aunt Dimity isnít the most interesting thing about the book, though she does have her moments (for those who donít know, Aunt Dimity has been dead for a few years but interacts with Lori through an old journal, with Lori talking to the journal and Dimityís replies showing up in glowing ink). She has her reasons for encouraging Lori on her wild goose chase, playing her like a fiddle when she wants to go to the police while still reining in some of her excesses. We find out even more about how the whole Dimity situation works (or at least I did, as this may have already been shown). Itís been established that some people (Loriís husband, her best friend) know about Dimityís existence, but this is the first time that itís become clear that they can also interact with her. It would be neat to have a mystery where Dimity gets more involved, but maybe Iíve already missed that.
Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter is not without its faults, of course. The Coincidence Fairy has sprinkled a bit too much dust on the book, with too much coming together at the perfect time to really make sense. Also, Athertonís prose style, while definitely not as cloying as in previous installments, still made my sweet tooth ache occasionally. I was ready for it, but it still overpowered me at times. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind for any of the Aunt Dimity books, and this is no exception.
Nancy Atherton seems to have an overarching theme in each of her books, and there are two in Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter. One is redemption, and another concerns mothers being overprotective of their children. While Lori does take it to extremes, Iím sure many mothers of children just starting school will identify with her, and Atherton shows how this can be taken too far, as well as the effect it can have on those around you. I like that, and I think it makes this a more interesting book.
If you like cozy mysteries, do give Aunt Dimity: Vampire Hunter a try. Those of you who need a bloody knife in your mysteries or thrillers, stay far away. Itís an excellent book if you are ready for it, a fluffy piece of lint to throw away in disgust if youíre not. Youíll have to decide which one applies to you.