The Aunt Dimity series of "mysteries" are notoriously so light that a soft breeze might blow them away. With her latest book, Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch, Nancy Atherton looks to embrace that reputation--now with a treasure hunt! She does include a villain as well (sort of) and an environmental message, too. Coincidence? Either way, this novel is a perfect example of the light mystery genre. That alone should tell you whether you would like it or not.
Somebody new is moving into the sleepy English village of Finch. The village gossips are keeping an eye on the woman as the moving trucks roll in, looking to know everything about her. She brings a secret or two to Finch, secrets that will keep the town hopping for a couple of weeks. Mrs. Amelia Thistle is actually a world-famous artist, and she's trying to hide from an overly rabid fan base that has set up what amounts to a religion in her honor. That's not all, though. She also possesses a fragment of a family diary that will lead the industrious Lori Shepherd and the rest of the villagers on a historical treasure hunt to find out just what happened to the village witch hundreds of years ago. Will they be able to successfully hide Amelia's identity from the stalkers? Will they find what they're looking for?
Atherton’s cast of Finch characters are well-established, and she uses them to great form in The Village Witch. It's amusing watching Lori and a couple of others who know Amelia's true identity trying to keep it from the nosy neighbors who would blab everything, especially if they see her as a rival for the affections of Lori's father-in-law, William Willis.
None of the characters have really changed; they're sort of the stock "English village" characters well-beloved in the genre. Lori is the driving force of the Aunt Dimity books, though, and it's nice that this time she doesn't appear to go off half-cocked. She usually tends to do that, but the one time she thinks of doing it this time around, Dimity stops her (Aunt Dimity is a ghost who communicates with Lori through ghostly writing in a journal). For once, Lori actually listens. Maybe this is character development!
The treasure hunt is actually somewhat interesting. While the clues are not always the most obvious, it is marred by a few too many coincidences, such as a character who can easily solve a specific riddle just happening by at the right moment. This is mitigated later when the whole village gets involved in the hunt, as they are now actively trying to solve the puzzles.
The other aspect of the book is the group of zealots who follow Amelia around because they see the profundity in her artwork as an almost religious experience. The outcome of this plot is almost clichéd, except that it goes so far against what I've seen in previous Aunt Dimity books that it is actually surprising. Watching the villagers run interference on this group, trying to protect this newcomer to their midst, is fun—especially true for their first encounter when the group arrives in force. I almost went to check on my car and where it was parked when one of the residents chastised a zealot for driving and parking on the village green.
Both plots come together in a great ending that actually seems to leave lasting changes with some of the characters after they spend most of the book being their typical selves. After many books of mostly treading water, it was nice to see that even old, nosy biddies can actually change their stripes a bit. Atherton also seems to be adding characters to this series over the last few books. I wonder if she's leading up to something.
The Village Witch is probably the best Aunt Dimity book I've read. I'm not sure if that's because I've become more accustomed to the series or not, but I didn't find the little annoyances this time that have added up in previous books. The book is light and frothy, but in a pleasant manner that goes down easily. If light and frothy's not for you, you've probably abandoned this series long ago. For the fans, this is definitely a step up.