Nancy Atherton

Nancy Atherton
Aunt Dimity’s Death

Aunt Dimity is already dead when this series begins, but her spirit permeates its events much the way a sachet scents clothing. These are cozy mysteries in the most literal sense: They leave you feeling warm inside.

Lori Shepherd, a penurious, newly divorced book lover, receives a letter from a law firm informing her of the death of Aunt Dimity—who she has known only as a story character, not an actual person. On presenting herself at the stately premises of Willis & Willis, Lori is ushered into a fairy-tale milieu of dazzling meteor showers, old-world gentility, and cryptic communications from beyond the grave. Aunt Dimity, it seems, has left her a generous bequest, contingent on an unusual behest. It’s as if Lori had tumbled headfirst down a rabbit hole, Alice in Wonderland style.

She even has the rabbit—a pink flannel charmer named Reginald. “As far as I knew, he had appeared on earth the same day I had, because he had been at my side forever.” Reginald survives “an adventuresome bunnyhood” only to be vandalized by would-be thieves who ransack Lori’s apartment and find nothing worth stealing. Sick at heart, she gathers up the pieces of her dearest friend (“It took me three days to find what remained of his left ear”) and tucks them away in a shoebox stored in the closet. “He was in no position to be talking to law firms.” Still, it takes more than dismemberment to keep a good rabbit down.

I don’t mind admitting that Reginald stole my heart on page one. But what sets these books apart is Atherton’s superb writing: fluid, assured, and captivating. Coming across an author of her cailber is like receiving an unexpected literary inheritance. Lori is not the only beneficiary of Aunt Dimity’s largesse.

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