Aunt Dimity and the Duke by Nancy Atherton is the second book in the Aunt Dimity series of cozy mysteries.
Emma, forty-something and newly single, travels to England to tour noteworthy gardens -- but a chance encounter with a set of elderly twins in a hedge maze sends her on a different course, designing a chapel garden for the Duke of Penford. The duke's estate is populated by a cast of quirky characters, including the charismatic duke himself, a variety of eccentric servants, a bad-tempered fashion model and distant relative to the duke along with her agent, and a widowed restoration specialist and his young children. When the fashion model is involved in an accident that nearly results in her death, Emma is left wondering if the duke might be hiding some terrible secret. Who can she trust?
I read the first Aunt Dimity book a couple years ago, and while I found it pleasant enough, I didn't like it enough to seek out the rest of the series. But when the rest of the series practically fell in my lap (passed along from a friend to a relative to me) I picked it up, looking for a pleasant light read on a weekend vacation. And that's precisely what this book is. The mystery is gentle even for the cozy genre, and the focus is much more on the relationships between characters and the slightest touch of paranormal activity than on murder or attempted murder. I wouldn't really recommend this to hardcore murder mystery fans, but for readers looking for a comforting read with gardens and aristocracy, plus a hint of mystery and a touch of romance, this is just the thing. And, since it does not share major characters with the first Aunt Dimity book, it can be read as a stand-alone if one so desires.
(Reviewed from a secondhand copy passed along by a friend.)