Aunt Dimity and the Village Witch
The one word that comes to mind every time I think of this book is lovely. Atherton builds a small village in the English countryside that is populated by exactly the kind of people one would expect to find there. It seems to have missed the last century, in that people are more worried about their neighbor’s welfare than they are about what dress Kate Middleton worn to the gala last night. You won’t find constant twitter updates here or anybody talking about the most recent podcast. Ordinarily, when I sit down and pick up a book, I curl up in bed with a cup of earl grey or a Stella Artois and the world outside my window disappears. Reading this book went beyond that. It was bizarrely cathartic to me that this place could exist in this time. It’s comforting to know that there’s a place where cell phones and husband grubbing spinsters exist simultaneously. It results in this delightfully light romp through the English countryside.
When Amelia Thistle moves to Finch, her new neighbors welcome her with open arms-and inquiring minds. Among them is Lori Shepherd, who isn’t fooled by Amelia’s unassuming persona. Amelia is, in fact, a world-famous artist with a rabid and eager-to-stalk fan base.
In order to keep peace in Finch, Lori must help Amelia conceal her identity. Amelia, meanwhile, sets about working on the riddle that brought her to town in the first place. A fragment of a family diary hints that one of Amelia’s ancestors might have been Mistress Meg, the Mad Witch of Finch. Following the clue, Lori hunts through Finch’s darkest and most secret corners, all the while dodging nosy neighbors and Amelia’s frantic fans. With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help, Lori inches closer to the true story of Mistress Meg-and Amelia.
In truth, I found this book to be refreshing. It’s not every day when you get to read a mystery that doesn’t center on a murder or a terrorist plot of some kind or another. The search for a hidden 17th century memoir that’s been hidden piecemeal throughout a sleepy village is nothing short of delightful. At no point is the situation life or death for our characters and though that can pump up the suspense, it’s wonderful to read a book that kept my eyes glued to the page without resorting to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery or a action adventure that’s all action (see my review of Soft Target), but some days I want the mystery without the gore and this book 100% delivers on that. It’s multi-faceted and complex without being ham-handed or overbearing.
There are two aspects, however, in which this story truly shines: characterization and setting. We’ll start with the people. Atherton created an entire village of fully fleshed out human beings with hopes and dreams, adorable idiosyncrasies and flaws. For a while I thought that a few of the characters were going to be left on the shelf as dusty stereotypes, but rest assured, she didn’t leave them there. These secondary characters were dusted off and allowed to adapt and grow. Since part of the premise of the book is the intrinsic value of village life, it was necessary to create a cast of believable and fully realized people to populate it. I’ll admit that there were times when I doubted that this could possibly be happening on the same planet that I live on, but the level to which I wanted it to be true more than compensated.
As to the setting, it’s surprising the economy of words with which Atherton brings the village to life. The tearoom and village green are left with only their names as their descriptors, allowing my mind to populate them with dainty china and verdant grass. Atherton does describe the locations of the clues more thoroughly, which is as it should be since they will have to be searched for the aforementioned clue, but when she does I was more than a little surprised to find that it matched (at least externally) what I had in my mind already. Granted the names of the cottages were pretty damn expressive, in and of themselves, and once again I found it difficult to believe that there’s a house on the planet that’s commonly referred to as Pussywillows, but oh how I want it to be true.
This is the first book I’ve read in this series and I fully intend to go back and read the rest, but there’s a key piece to this story/series that I haven’t covered yet: Aunt Dimity. It’s not explained how the effect is achieved in the story, but the main character, Lori, has a journal which she can speak to and her deceased aunt will write her response. It sounds weird when I describe it like that, I know, but oddly, within the confines of the book it works. You look forward tp Lori sitting down to talk to Aunt Dimity in front of the fire because Aunt Dimity is something of a spit fire. She reminds me quite a lot of Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. She’s exceedingly intelligent, pragmatic and always talks with a certain dry wit that I just adore. We should all be so lucky to have a leather bound Aunt Dimity in our life.
In the end, this book is a light read, but it’s delightful nonetheless. If you have a free afternoon, this is one hell of a way to spend it.
4 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 4.5 Buffys
Character Investibility: 4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Urgency/Tension: 4 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4.5 Snyders
Language: 4 Feegles
Mystery: 4 Sherlocks