With Aunt Dimity & the Next of Kin being my first exposure to the Aunt Dimity series, I wasn't sure I was looking forward to Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea, but I decided to soldier on, since I already had it. The first book wasn't too bad, just extremely superficial with a small message attached to it. Would this be more of the same? Thankfully not. While the resolution of the plot leaves something to be desired, and the mystery turns out to be a bit corny, this held my attention much more than the first one did.
The book opens on a tense note, with Bill, Lori Shepherd's lawyer husband, coming home to tell his family that they must vacate their quiet village home because he has received death threats, apparently from a former client. While he works with the local police to figure out who it might be and to stop them, he gets one of their rich friends, Sir Percy, to fly the rest of the family away to a secluded location. It turns out to be an island cut off from most civilization. There, Percy has a castle and has hired two of the best bodyguards he knows (Damian and Andrew) to watch over Lori and the kids. Of course, she takes the Aunt Dimity journal with her, the one where Dimity's ghost communicates with Lori. But there's something strange about the only village on the island, with the residents doing everything in their power to keep tourists at bay. What's the secret behind their activities? And is it as nefarious as it seems?
Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea has a lot more tension than the earlier book, and I adored it for that reason alone. Unfortunately, this is also a strike against the book, mainly because none of the tension actually builds to anything, except reconfirming Lori's worldview that everybody is nice (except for the man trying to kill her family to take revenge on Bill, of course). Thus, I really enjoyed the book while I was reading it but I was left a little annoyed once I was done. The attempted murder plot almost feels tacked on and the rest of the story, while atmospheric, ultimately shakes down to nothing in particular.
Instead, Atherton gives us an extended tour of the castle and surrounding lands, spending quite a few pages doing this, despite the fact that the book is quite short. Usually, when an author does this, most of the information will be put to good use later in the story, but most of it isn't in this case. It just adds to the atmosphere a little bit while dragging the plot to a halt. This is, however, where we meet Damian and Andrew. Damian becomes the main focus of the plot, as he is Lori's personal bodyguard and she takes it upon herself to get him to lighten up a little bit. He never cracks a smile and he doesn't respond to her little jokes at all. When the mystery of what's going on with the village presents itself (and it does in a very coincidental fashion), Damian finds himself drawn in due to Lori's infectious curiosity.
In fact, the interplay between these two characters is the highlight of the book (along with Aunt Dimity, of course, but more later). I only have two books as a sample, but Atherton seems at her best when she gives Lori a male companion to play off of, whether it's Gabriel in Next of Kin or Damian here. Especially wonderful is the scene when the power goes out and Lori asks him into her room to find out his thoughts on the village. He is stiff as a board and even thinks she might try and seduce him. It's a hilarious scene and Damian's growth throughout the book is great.
It's too bad that none of the other characters even come close to this. All of them have their role to play in the plot and that's about it. The arrival of an old friend is way too coincidental, even as Atherton tries to justify it. Other coincidences abound too, supposedly adding to the tension but then being explained away. The attempted murder plot doesn't interfere with the island mystery except for the interludes provided by Bill's phone calls, which seem to be included in the story more to remind us that there actually is something serious going on than anything else.
Aunt Dimity is a bit more prominent this time around, actually doing something for once (using her unique situation to confirm what a departed spirit is either doing or not doing, but to say more would be spoiling). She's a great character, which can be surprising considering we only know about her through her writing in the journal to Lori. It also adds a bit more substance to her role in the series, as well as confirming some things (which admittedly may already have been confirmed in earlier books). She doesn't know anything about what happens in our world except what Lori tells her, but she can check out what any other dead people are doing (or not doing, if they're not around anymore). Good to know.
Aunt Dimity & the Deep Blue Sea is a much more satisfying book than Next of Kin, despite the way it ends. It's still light as a feather, but at least there appears to be something behind the story this time around. There is a sense of danger occasionally, which is a nice change. While this book certainly won't make me seek out any others, I will certainly read them if they come to me. They're a nice change of pace from having to think much. Just sit back and take a breather while immersing yourself in something kind of fun.