The Tale of Briar Bank
The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert
Review: Susan Wittig Albert continues her account of the lives of the characters and creatures living in the Land Between the Lakes in The Tale of Briar Bank, the fifth mystery in the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter.
The untimely and mysterious death of Hugh Wickstead, an eccentric antiquities collector who lived in the Briar Bank Cottage on Stoney Lane, has the villagers in a buzz. Last spring, he had found a treasure trove hidden in an abandoned badger burrow by Moss Eccles Pond. Now, for no apparent reason, in mid-winter he decided to return the bags of valuable antiques to their hiding place. While his dog, Pickles, pushed the two bags of treasure back into the hole, the top of a near by yew tree snapped off falling on Wickstead's head, killing him instantly. Although fresh claw prints were discovered on the break, they gave no clue as to the mystery of why the top of the tree fell off. The prints were larger than any creature living in the area. This raised an interesting question: Was the tree top falling intentional or an accident? The villagers, believing there to be a curse on the trove, found speculating and gossiping about it very entertaining. Bailey Badger, one of the countless critters roaming the village, heard of the whole affair. He was eager to tell his friends, other badgers, guinea pigs, an owl, rabbits, cats and dogs, all about what he had heard. But Pickles was also there, so he, too, had a story to tell. If only the villagers could understand them, there may be no questions as to circumstances surrounding Wickstead's death.
Beatrix Potter, who lives with her domineering mother and docile father in their London home, recently purchased a farm in the Land Between the Lakes. Much to her mother's disapproval, Beatrix leaves London for a short vacation at her farm on Hill Top. Here she is transformed as if by some mysterious spell. She is no longer an unstylish, unattractive, spinster daughter; she is a country woman, a competent farmer, and a shepherd. This is who Beatrix Potter believes she really is. After learning that Mr. Wickstead was killed by the top of the tree falling on his head, and the judge's ruling that there was no foul play involved, Beatrix suggests that pictures of the claw marks be taken and sent to Dr. Trevor Hall, an authority of natural history in the area. Wickstead's long missing sister, his only surviving relative, is to inherit his estate. Later questions arise when Beatrix sees a Wickstead album of photographs showing the family's home. To her surprise it is actually the home of her own grandparents and most certainly not that of the Wicksteads. She also notices a discrepancy in their ages: Wickstead was at least seven years older than his sister but in the photographs they appear only two or three years apart in age. Beatrix begins to question the identity of the woman. Is she really his sister? Is she entitled to his estate? Beatrix wants answers, and sets out to find them.
The Tale of Briar Bank is an enchanting, delightful book to read. The ease at which the author interweaves several storylines — Beatrix' change from being an unhappy person in London to the carefree, eager country lady; the promise of a new love for Beatrix; and the mystery of the death of Wickstead — is remarkable. The portrayal and wittiness of the critters is its own literary pleasure. Readers may want to reread certain passages to appreciate how well written they are, how they magically bring Beatrix Potter to life in the Land Between the Lakes.
Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of The Tale of Briar Bank.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided a copy of The Tale of Briar Bank for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood
Berkley Prime Crime (Hardcover), June 2006
ISBN-13: 9780425210048; ISBN-10: 0425210049
Location(s) referenced in The Tale of Briar Bank: England's Lake District
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The Tale of Briar Bank by Susan Wittig Albert — The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date: September 2008
List Price: $23.95