The Tale of Hill Top Farm

Written by Susan Wittig Albert
Review by Ellen Keith

Children’s book author Beatrix Potter joins the likes of Jane Austen and Arthur Conan Doyle, re-imagined as an amateur sleuth. Albert, who writes a Victorian mystery series as Robin Paige with her husband Bill, intends this to be the first in a series. It is 1905, and Beatrix Potter has purchased Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, intending it as a sanctuary from her domineering parents and their unsympathetic reaction to the death of her fiancé. She arrives in Near Sawrey shortly after the unexpected death of Abigail Tolliver. The school roof fund goes missing along with the parish register, and the schoolmistress begins to behave irrationally. Beatrix investigates, unknowingly with the assistance of village cats Tabitha Twitchet, Crumpet, Max the Manx, and terrier Rascal. Beatrix’s own animals and stars of her stories, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Josey and Mopsy Rabbit, and Tom Thumb Mouse, accompany her.

This is the coziest of cozies, in no small part because the animals talk to each other and take an active part in solving the many mysteries. The reader can either take this as homage to Potter or see it as too twee for words. I saw it as the latter. Albert ably evokes English village life, with neighbors knowing each other’s business, and paints an interesting portrait of Beatrix as a quiet yet spirited woman. However, only a certain type of reader can appreciate the preciosity of talking animals, and I am not that reader.