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The Tale of Hill Top Farm
The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter

by Susan Wittig Albert

      Beatrix Potter as a sleuth? Surely she was too busy writing her enchanting stories about Benjamin Bunny and Squirrel Nutkin; apparently not, as this first entry in a new series shows. This is the first in this series of novels detailing her life as a farmer in England's beautiful Lake District (the second being The Tale of Holly How, also reviewed on this site), a series that blends fact and fiction in a rather delightful and unusual way.

Nobody in the tiny hamlet of Near Sawrey is pleased to see the new owner of Hill Top Farm is a woman, and a posh writer from London at that. What can she know about farming? Just before her arrival, Miss Abigail Tolliver is found dead under mysterious circumstances. Also, the parish registry is missing and the only folk who know the truth of these matters unfortunately cannot talk; they are the animals who live in the hamlet.

This out-cozies even a pair of slippers, and I am already finding this amiable and clever new series very addictive. The whodunnit part of the book is very enjoyable (though it could have been harder to solve), but this isn't the part that makes this series memorable. The description of rural life a hundred years ago has the ring of truth, with all the joys and travails of a tight community, but what really makes these books unusual (and makes full use of the Beatrix Potter motif) is the animals that talk amongst themselves just like Benjamin Bunny, et al. If somebody had told me about this, I would have dismissed it as being overly cute, and an idea unlikely to work but it does, beautifully.

If you liked William Horwood's Willows books then this is bound to appeal. To its detriment, there is an overly large cast who all get introduced rather quickly so I was glad of the dramatis personae at the front. Turn to the back and you will find another list of dialect words and some tasty recipes. This is the sort of book that would make an ideal gift for a whole range of people into cozies, Beatrix Potter and country life.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime (Penguin Putnam)
4 October 2005
Historical Crime [1905, Lake District, England]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005