Born in Chicago, IL. Education: University of Chicago, received degree, 1989.
Author. Has worked as a freelance proofreader, copyeditor, and librarian, also at a ski lodge, dude ranch, and day care center.
Aunt Dimity's Death, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Aunt Dimity and the Duke, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
Aunt Dimity Digs In, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
Aunt Dimity's Christmas, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Aunt Dimity: Detective, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Aunt Dimity: Snowbound, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
Aunt Dimity Goes West, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
Nancy Atherton is a mystery writer whose books feature Lori Shepherd, who channels the advice of one Aunt Dimity, a deceased friend of Lori's mother. The series resulting from this odd collaboration is both "popular and enchanting," according to Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett. The series was also described by Margaret Flanagan in Booklist as "delightfully quirky." Lori is first introduced in Aunt Dimity's Death. Lori, who is newly divorced and has recently lost her mother, is struggling as a temp when she receives a letter from the law firm of Willis and Willis in Boston. Dimity Westwood, who had been corresponding with Lori's mother since they met during World War I, has left Lori an inheritance. Dimity's letters had contained stories Lori's mother then read to her, but Lori had not realized that there was a real woman behind the tales. Attorney Bill Willis accompanies Lori to Dimity's cottage in England to carry out Dimity's wishes that her stories be collected and published. The cottage is haunted by the woman's ghost, and Lori attempts to uncover the facts surrounding Dimity's romance with a World War II flier. A Publishers Weekly reviewer said that Atherton "creates a potentially appealing heroine.… but never places her in danger, thus sacrificing suspense." A Kirkus Reviews writer described Aunt Dimity's Death as "amiable, stylishly written—often with a touch of wry humor."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer described Atherton's second novel, Aunt Dimity and the Duke, as "more amusing than the first." The protagonist is computer analyst Emma Porter of Boston. Emma is nearly forty and has recently been dumped by her lover for a younger replacement. She is traveling in Cornwall, England, where she meets Grayson Alexander, the duke of Penford Hall. Grayson solicits Emma's help in finding a lantern Aunt Dimity had asked him to recover. Grayson, who had been connected to the death of a rock star five years earlier, is attempting to have his garden restored before the centennial of a local supernatural event. Emma meets and falls in love with widower Derek Harris, an historian whose interest is the stained glass chapel window central to the celebration. Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper wrote that Atherton gives the story "breadth and depth with terrific characters and an intriguing plot involving psychic phenomenon."
Lori returns in Aunt Dimity's Good Deed in which she is now married to attorney Bill Willis, whom she tries to lure away from his heavy workload with a trip to the cottage she inherited from Aunt Dimity. When Bill is unable to make the trip due to his commitment to a case, his father offers to go in his stead, seeing it as a chance to make peace with family members in England. When the senior Willis disappears, Nell, the daughter of Emma and Derek, and the ghost of Aunt Dimity lead Lori on the path to finding her father-in-law. Lori meets the English cousins, whose law firm is beset with problems, and learns the truth about the family feud. At the end, Bill and the now-pregnant Lori move to England. The series was called "pointedly cute" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer. A writer for Kirkus Reviews said of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed that "fans could adore it; others might like to see the author's graceful writing skills brought a bit more down to earth." Booklist reviewer Emily Melton called it "heartwarming and charming, Atherton's latest bit of eccentric whimsy is sure to delight."
Aunt Dimity Digs In finds Lori and Bill living happily in the village of Finch and the parents of twin boys. Aunt Dimity keeps in touch through the blue notebooks she has left to Lori and where her handwriting appears to advise Lori when needed. Lori, who is a rare book expert, is asked to help when a document concerning an archaeological find is stolen. Characters include Peggy Kitchen, who is trying to evict archaeologist Adrian Culver from a schoolhouse so that she can complete plans for the Harvest Festival, and Francesca Sciaparelli, the nanny who appears just in time to pitch in so that Lori can pursue the facts behind the mystery, which include witch sightings in a meadow. A Publishers Weekly reviewer said of this installment in the series that Atherton "delivers pure cozy entertainment." Melton, in another Booklist review, called the series "cozy as a warm fire and soothing as a hot cup of tea."
In Aunt Dimity's Christmas, the holiday is interrupted when Lori finds an unconscious man in the snow outside their home. Dimity relays a message to Lori that she should seek the identity of the man, now lying in a coma at the local hospital. Lori sleuths with Father Julian, a Catholic priest, as they uncover the truth about a man who has been instrumental in the lives of many in a positive way. "In this most unusual mystery," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Atherton offers a glimpse of the finer side of human nature."
Lori, once again aided by Aunt Dimity's ghost writing in the blue-bound leather journal, is on the trail of a tragic love story in Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil. In Scotland to examine the Wyrdhurst clan, she investigates mysterious noises in an old house, only to come upon the love letters of a pair of lovers from World War I. GraceAnne A. DeCandido, writing in Booklist, commented: "There's a romantic tale … and enough dreamy and ghostly wish-fulfillment to satisfy readers across several genres." Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly critic who applauded the "irresistible flair and charm" of Atherton's writing. Lori more directly plays the sleuth in the 2001 installment, Aunt Dimity: Detective. Returning to the village of Finch after several months in the United States, Lori finds that her small village is stirred by the apparent murder of one of its residents. Aided by the vicar's nephew and Aunt Dimity's ghostly advice, Lori gets to the bottom of things in this "lightweight, easy-flowing entertainment," as a Kirkus Reviews critic described the work.
Lori uncovers numerous skeletons in the closet of the Earl of Elstyn with Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, a "charming trifle," according to Booklist contributor Flanagan. Anonymous threatening letters and seeming pranks at the earl's estate lead Lori to the source of the unrest. A Kirkus Reviews critic was less impressed with this eighth installment, calling it a "weightless mystery with precious few clues." A Library Journal writer was more positive, however, calling Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday a "delightful title." Lori gets lost on a hike and finds refuge from a snow storm in a seemingly deserted mansion in Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. While snowbound, and with the aid of Aunt Dimity's magic writing, she solves a mystery involving missing pearls. Alan Paul Curtis, writing for WhoDunnit.com, concluded: "All those who like a mystery without the gruesome details of a murder … will certainly thrive on this story."
With Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, Lori finds herself solving a missing-person's case for a woman who has just died. Booklist reviewer Jenny McLarin noted that this title was not for the hardcore mystery fans, but those who like cozy mysteries "will purr quietly." In the 2006 Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, danger strikes closer to home as Lori's lawyer husband, Bill, receives death threats, which send Lori and the twins off to the safety of a Scottish island for a time. Once there, however, Lori becomes involved in discovering the secret of the islanders' seeming wealth. Booklist contributor McLarin felt this eleventh novel in the series was a "testament to the staying power of Atherton's cozier-than-cozy premise." In an interview for MysteryGuide.com, Atherton explained the mysterious origins of Aunt Dimity: "I don't know where Aunt Dimity came from. I really don't. What happened was, I sat up in bed about 3:00 one morning, and the first line of the book was in my head: ‘When I learned of Aunt Dimity's death, I was stunned; not because she was dead, but because she had never been alive.’ I sat up in bed and I turned the light on and I wrote it down and I said, ‘I wonder what that means?’ And then I thought maybe I should explain, and I wrote that down."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Heising, Willetta L., Detecting Women 2, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, summer, 1993, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 48.
Booklist, October 15, 1992, Ilene Cooper, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 404; October 1, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 241; September 15, 1996, Emily Melton, review of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, p. 223; March 1, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Aunt Dimity Digs In, p. 1097; September 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Aunt Dimity: Detective, p. 55; September 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, p. 221; February 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, p. 1052; January 1, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, p. 825; February 1, 2006, Jenny McLarin, review of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, p. 35.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1992, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 1152; September 1, 1994, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 1165; August 15, 1996, review of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, p. 1187; August 15, 2001, review of Aunt Dimity: Detective, p. 1163; February 1, 2003, review of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, p. 184; December 15, 2005, review of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, p. 1300.
Kliatt, January, 1994, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 4.
Library Journal, October 1, 1992, Rex E. Klett, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 122; November 1, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 115; August 1, 1995, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 148; September 1, 1996, Rex E. Klett, review of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, p. 214; October 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Aunt Dimity's Christmas, p. 138; September 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Aunt Dimity: Detective, p. 238; February 1, 2003, review of Aunt Dimity Takes a Holiday, p. 122.
Locus, November, 1992, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 33; January, 1993, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 43; December, 1993, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 47; December, 1994, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 54.
Publishers Weekly, September 14, 1992, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 110; October 25, 1993, review of Aunt Dimity's Death, p. 58; October 17, 1994, review of Aunt Dimity and the Duke, p. 65; August 19, 1996, review of Aunt Dimity's Good Deed, p. 55; January 19, 1998, review of Aunt Dimity Digs In, p. 375; September 20, 1999, review of Aunt Dimity's Christmas, p. 77; August 14, 2000, review of Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, p. 332.
MysteryGuide.com,http://www.mysteryguide.com/ (March 4, 1998), "Nancy Atherton Interview."
Nancy Atherton Home Page,http://www.aunt-dimity.com (December 18, 2006).
WhoDunnit.com,http://www.who-dunnit.com/ (December 18, 2006), "Nancy Atherton," and Alan Paul Curtis, reviews of Aunt Dimity, Snowbound and Aunt Dimity Digs In.