Series: Aunt Dimity #23
Published by Viking on July 24, 2018
Genres: British mystery, Cozy Mystery
Source: the library
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Also in this series: Aunt Dimity and the Summer King
Also by this author: Aunt Dimity and the Summer King
On a dull and dreary October day, Lori Shepherd and her husband Bill set off for the historic town of Rye, on the southeast coast of England, for a quiet weekend together without the kids. Bill must first pay a visit to a reclusive client—but after Lori drops him off, a powerful storm drives her off course and leaves her stranded in an ancient, rambling inn called The King's Ransom. When Lori is spooked by ghostly noises in the night, Aunt Dimity reminds her rather tartly that not all ghosts intend to harm the living.
But the longer Lori is stuck at the inn, the stranger things seem. She learns that the inn was once a hangout for smugglers, and that it's riddled with secret tunnels the smugglers used to reach a network of hidden caves. Then there's the inn's cook—a brawny, gruff ex-con—who seems to have a beef with a mysterious French guest. Are the noises Lori hears made by the spirits of long dead smugglers? Or should she be more worried by the inn's living inhabitants? Joining forces with her new friend Bishop Wyndham, and guided by Aunt Dimity's wise counsel, Lori sets out to discover once and for all who—or what—is haunting The King's Ransom.
Marooned in a ridge-top village by rising floodwaters, Lori teams up with a kindred spirit, an elderly bishop named Christopher, to investigate a series of small and possibly related mysteries. Why is the village’s inn called “The King’s Ransom”? What is the source of the sounds that woke both Lori and Christopher in the night? What is the mysterious Monsieur Renauld up to? And what do the tavern’s reputed ghosts have to do with any of it?
For my money, Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom is one of the best Aunt Dimity books in several years, full of warmth and gentle humor and mysteries that, while they pique the reader’s interest, are neither deadly nor particularly dangerous. ‘Aunt Dimity’ is the cozy series to end all cozy series. This book, while not as involved as the early novels in the series, has all the comfort and charm of a cup of tea and a generous plate of scones. Lori’s attic room, the cyclone (hurricane) that strands her, the villagers’ friendliness and Christopher’s warmth, even the ghost stories, all contribute to the overall feeling of having found a safe and welcoming shelter from the storms and stresses of life.
The way the villagers pull together to help not only their neighbors from the low-lying farms, but also Lori and a busload of French tourists stranded by the rising waters, is a lesson in community and a reminder of the essential goodness of (most) people—a reminder emphasized by another of the story’s subplots, and by several incidents throughout the book.
The village bookstore and its history-loving proprietor offer another treat for booklovers. As a former bookseller myself, I chuckled appreciatively at Horatio’s ability to locate a book on any requested subject. “Mongolian throat singing?” asks his assistant. “Travel. Third shelf from the top. Beige cover, black type.” It felt so familiar, as did the descriptions of the bookshop itself:
There was nothing corporate about Best Books. The place smelled of rain and old bindings. Its pine shelves looked as though they’d been hammered together in someone’s garage rather than ordered en masse from a factory, and the wall posters behind the checkout counter touted local events instead of the latest bestsellers…
The bookshelves were arranged in bays on either side of a center aisle that required some agility to negotiate as it was scattered with cardboard boxes filled with books. Books covered the wooden tables at the front of the shop, and the wide floorboards beneath the tables were all but hidden by bags of books.
Horatio Best clearly had no interest in selling toys, games, puzzles, greeting cards, calendars, tote bags, T-shirts, or collectible bookmarks. His shop was packed to the rafters with nothing but new and used books. Paperbacks sat beside hardcovers on shelves labeled by topic.
Atherton could be describing any of a number of quirky, off-the-beaten-track bookstores I have visited over the years. I could almost smell the books.
I doubt that English village life today is quite as, well, cozy as that of Shepney, and modern England is far more diverse than the one pictured in the Aunt Dimity books. For all their charm, Atherton’s bucolic, idyllic English villages are not a realistic portrayal of Britain today. But when I recently found myself craving the bookish equivalent of a warm chair by the fire, a hot cup of tea and a tasty scone, Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransom proved to be just the treat I needed.
A final note: My favorites in the series remain books 1 and 2, though they are really book 1 and its prequel: Aunt Dimity’s Death and Aunt Dimity and the Duke. Those two in particular have been among my most frequently reread “comfort books” for nearly two decades. While the series continues to entertain at 23 titles and counting, the first six books (or so) offer more depth, richer character development, and more involved plots.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Library Love Challenge 2019