The Tale of Hill Top Farm
Gypsi Phillips Bates
The Tale of Hill Top Farm
Susan Wittig Albert
The Berkley Publishing Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
37 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
ISBN: 0425196348, $22.95 286 pages
“I’m afraid then,” Mr. Heelis went on regretfully, “that we must assume that the painting has been stolen.”
“Some one from the village, I suppose,” Miss Barwich said, and blew her nose. “Is there a policeman?”
“I keep telling them,” Crumpet whispered to Tabitha, “about that fellow Roberts. But of course they don’t listen.”
“They can’t,” Tabitha said. “Their ears don’t work right.” She frowned. “Or maybe it’s their brains.”
Beatrix Potter is the heroine of this mystery, but not in the way that is popular lately: famous historical or fictional person is secretly a great detective. No, in this gentle mystery, Albert mixes fact with fiction and in telling of Miss Potter’s first visit to Hill Top Farm as owner. There is no gruesome murder, no horrid secrets, no fearsome villain. Instead, there are a few missing items in the village of Near Sawrey that bring a ripple of disturbance to their (mostly) peaceful village. Miss Potter is not the detective, she doesn’t seek out to find the missing items, nor does she use any deductive skills to solve the mysteries. She is merely the central point around which the story moves.
The thing that turns this from just the average village story, sprinkled with domestic mystery, to a delightful and charming story is the animals. Miss Potter brings her hedgehog, two bunnies and mouse with her. Also, the village has quite a cast of cats and dogs. What’s even better–they talk! Not to humans, of course, but to each other. There conversations are recorded in italics, so the reader knows immediately which species is communicating. Albert uses it to make several amusing scenes where the animals are trying to tell the humans something, only to be told to stop meowing, or that there’s no more fish, or that if they stop that noise they’ll have to go outside. How shocked the village residents would be to discover that their pets made great detectives!
Another feature that makes this book so interesting is Miss Potter herself. Albert gives the reader glimpses of Miss Potters biography that made me sincerely want to read more. Luckily, Albert included a biographical not at the end, following Potter’s life up to the point when the Hill Top Farm visit took place. I was interested enough, though, to want to know of Miss Potter, of what happens next, of when she does finally move in to Hill Top Farm. I was inspired to re-read Miss Potter’s tales, as well, from the many mentions made of them.
I’ve used the word already, but “gentle” seems the best way to describe The Tale of Hill Top Farm. Pastoral, perhaps would also give the right impression; it is an escape from telephones and traffic and tv (and murder mysteries) to a slower time, when the loss of the Parish Register is a dreadful thing. Animal lovers will enjoy this book, though it might not be quite as satisfying to mystery lovers. Personally, I’m looking forward to the next of “The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter”.
Gypsi Phillips Bates, Reviewer
COPYRIGHT 2004 Midwest Book Review
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