The mystery is in the history

Aunt Dimity and the Summer King

(An Aunt Dimity Mystery, #20)
By Nancy Atherton
There’s trouble in Finch. Four recently sold cottages are standing empty, and the locals fear that a developer plans to turn their cozy village into an enclave of overpriced weekend homes. But for once Lori Shepherd can’t help.

Her infant daughter, her father-in-law’s upcoming wedding, and the crushing prospect of her fortieth birthday have left her feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. Until, that is, she has a chance encounter with an eccentric inventor named Arthur Hargreaves. Dubbed the Summer King by his equally eccentric family, Arthur is as warmhearted as the summer sun. In his presence, Lori forgets her troubles—and Finch’s.

But Lori snaps out of her happy trance when she discovers detailed maps of Finch in the Summer King’s library. Next, a real estate agent comes knocking. Is Arthur secretly plotting Finch’s demise?

With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help—and her new daughter in her arms—Lori mounts a crusade to save her beloved village from the Summer King’s scorching greed.

-via Goodreads
My second vacation read was Aunt Dimity and the Summer King. I have loved this series for some time. Lori Shepherd inherited a cottage in a small town in England from her mother’s close friend. With the cottage came a journal that Lori can use to communicate with Aunt Dimity. Lori talks and Aunt Dimity’s responses appear on the page. In some of the earlier books, Dimity is a bit more of a forceful ghost but over time she has turned into a sounding board for Lori, providing information about the village/villagers and giving Lori advice (mostly in the form of reining in Lori’s impulsive urges).
Aside from loving the idyllic village of Finch and the locals who live there, I appreciate that this series doesn’t need murder and mayhem to generate a mystery worth reading. In this installment, the very existence of the village becomes a mystery through Lori’s introduction to Arthur Hargreaves, the titular Summer King, a position he is granted by his grandchildren each summer.
As anyone in Finch and they’ll practically spit after the name Hargreaves. He’s from the next town over and Finchers (?) hate the next town over. There is a long-standing feud that no one can clearly articulate. Lori learns it has something to do with a Hargreaves from several generations back siding with the other town instead of Finch so Finch turned collective back on them.
Lori thoroughly enjoyed meeting Arthur and was charmed by his demeanor, home and grandchildren. She hopes to be an emissary between Finch and the Hargreaves. At the same time, Lori grows concerned that a realtor from ‘that other town’ is convincing potential owners to not purchase the two empty cottages on Finch’s square. Lori wants Finch to survive and decides to investigate the realtor to discover the reason behind her nefarious act.
I am amused that so many of the mysteries within the series are created by the protagonist. Instead of something happening – like a crime – that the (nosy) protagonist needs to solve, Lori jumps to conclusions, makes wild accusations and trots off to prove she’s right. Which she typically isn’t. This tactic makes seemingly benign problems in Finch and in Lori’s lift become extreme obstacles that must be overcome. It personalizes the mystery which invests Lori and by default invests the reader. Nice little trick there, Ms. Atherton.

Suffice it to say that Lori does discover what the realtor is up to and why the Hargreaves have been okay with being reviled by Finch – and they are related. The mystery ultimately comments on the ability of a village like Finch to exist in the modern world. Part of why I love this series so much is the dream of someday living in a place like this with all the gossipy and helpful people it brings. It seems too good to be true and even in the world of the Aunt Dimity series it’s kind of too good to be true. But it’s not going anywhere and that’s why I keep coming back.

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