The Tale of Applebeck Orchard

Written by Susan Wittig Albert
Review by Helene Williams

In this installment of the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series, facts from Potter’s world mix with a fictional mystery set in England’s Lake District in 1910. Gruff Mr. Harmsworth closes the public footpath which cuts through Applebeck Orchard, causing accusations to fly. Who burned Mr. Harmsworth’s haystack? Do day-trippers cause enough damage and havoc to warrant the closure? Is there a connection to the story of the orchard being haunted? Into this scenario comes Beatrix Potter, owner of Hill Top Farm and good neighbor to all. Potter’s personal life, complete with a secret romance, is but one subplot in this busy volume. Several other elaborately-arranged subplots involve the animals of the district, but unfortunately nearly all of them are left unresolved. The central tale is deftly told, though having several points of focus was distracting—for example, I still wonder what happened to the cats after they met the ferret. Albert’s self-referential style, à la Jane Austen, aims to keep the reader on track and is clever up to a point, but is overused here. The bits of Lake District history and discussions about social class and marriage are nicely done, however, and add much to keep the reader’s interest.