"AUNT DIMITY SLAYS THE DRAGON" by Nancy Atherton, Viking, 232 pages, $24.95

The cover of "Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon" may look like it belongs to a children's book, but it doesn't. It does, however, contain the wit and lightheartedness that makes books for young readers so attractive.

"Dragon" is the 14th book in author Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity mystery series, featuring the exploits of Lori Shepherd, an American transplant living in the small English village of Finch with her husband, Bill, and 6-year-old twin sons.

Lori's overactive imagination is always getting her in trouble, and ever since the "incident" with the vampire a couple of months ago, she's decided to rein in her nosiness and be a "normal" housewife.

It isn't long, though, before Lori realizes how boring normalcy can be, so when a Renaissance fair by the name of King Wilfred's Faire comes to town, she welcomes it as a break from her daily routine.

The fair is everything she could wish for — knights, nobility, wenches, wizards and jesters roam the maze of streets. Residents are invited to get into the act, too, dressing their favorite part, running booths and participating in the spectacle of parades and the joust arena.

But before the first day is over, Lori finds that there's more to the fair than pageantry and make-believe. It seems that someone is trying to kill Good King Wilfred and there's a creepy stagehand who seems to pop up wherever and whenever there's trouble. And why does he seem to be stalking one of the young madrigal singers?

Despite her best efforts to not get involved, Lori finds herself in the middle of a medieval drama, trying to save her village from a modern-day tragedy.

"Dragon" is a lighthearted romp in the English countryside, complete with pastoral scenes, nosy neighbors and daily tea.

In Lori, Atherton has created a heroine who's easily identifiable and fun to read about. Lori's curiosity and amateur sleuthing come to life in this easy-to-read page-turner.

To Atherton's credit, nothing in "Dragon" feels forced or overly convenient, which can be a huge problem in the mystery genre. And though part of a series, "Dragon" can stand alone. A quick summary on the characters is all that's given and is all that's really needed.

Part fairy tale, part whodunit, Atherton's buoyant tone keeps "Dragon" light and appealing. Her style will bewitch readers and send them looking for more Aunt Dimity capers.

E-MAIL: jharrison@desnews.com