Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Tale of Castle Cottage by Susan Wittig Albert

Beatrix Potter, children's author and farm owner, has finally found a new man in her life to love, Will Heelix, the solicitor who helped her with so many criminal cases, has asked to marry her, and she accepted. But the renovation and remodelling of Castle Cottage, the farm she has inhabited for so many years, seems to be at a dead standstill. The man she has contracted to do the work, Mr. Biddle, is taking forever, and he claims the work has been stalled by someone stealing from him.

In fact, he soon fires Mr. Adcock, the carpenter, who seems as honest as the day is long, and which gains Mr. Biddle quite a bit of anger, not only from Mr. and Mrs. Adcock, but from the other workmen as well. Mr. Adcock can only maintain his innocence and stomp off in high dudgeon.

But Beatrix isn't the only one with problems involving theft. Everyone in town is missing something- and the culprits might very well be a group of thieving rats who have moved into town and are stealing everything that isn't secure- and that is an awful lot, from money and food to silver and small items. But when Mr. Adcock turns up dead soon after being fired, it's up to Beatrix to figure out what is going on and find the true culprit who is stealing from Mr. Biddle and who is behind the run on the town's possessions.

For among the missing items is a very, very valuable book that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. And Beatrix must find it to save the name of a maid and keep her from being transported for theft, because she is convinced that the maid didn't steal it. But the thefts and the slow work on the new house she intends to share with Will Heelis aren't the only things holding up her marriage,. for there is also her parents.

Beatrix's parents are not especially wealthy, but they are comfortable, and with that sort of money, they are completely opposed to Beatrix marrying anyone who actually works for a living, known as "Being in Trade". When Beatrix fell in love with and became engaged to her former suitor, Norman Warne, she was tremendously happy. But he died after a very short illness, and while Beatrix has fallen once again, her family will oppose her match with Will for the very same reasons that they opposed her match to Norman- and acted so very relieved when he died.

Beatrix doesn't know if she can go through with her father's anger and her mother's anger and fainting to push for another marriage, even if it would make her supremely happy- and she isn't the only one hiding her true feelings. Her brother. Bertram, hasn't told his parents that he has been married for years to a young woman who worked as a maid and in a factory and who now lives with him on his farm in Scotland.

When he comes to visit her, can Bertram help Beatrice face their parents, or will he remain a coward and leave it all to her? Will there be a happy ending for Beatrice and Will, or will the second great love of her life have as unhappy an ending as her first? And can the animals of the town and the Badgers of the Brockery end the plague of rats that have overrun the town?

This was the last book in the Beatrix Potter mystery series, and it's just as full of interesting characters, both human and animal, as the first. And both sides of the town, human and animal, are threatened by thieves and murderers. The humans by thieves both human and animal, and the animals because letting the thieving rats run wild may mean that their humans will no longer support them- after all, cats and terriers are supposed to mean the death of rats.

But both sets of thieves are unusually vicious and it's up to each side to gain allies and deal with the threats correctly. And in each case, to make sure a happy ending comes about with the miscreants dealt with and the status quo restored. If anything made me somewhat annoyed during the novel, it was Beatrice being allowed to not deal with her parents. Even if it was true to what really happened, I felt that she needed to take more of a firm stand to them, and that just felt lacking in the book.

Other than that, though, it was all good. Beatrix and her friends and neighbors have been a part of my reading life for so long that the ending was a little bittersweet for me- but I'll hsve fine memories of the books to look back on. Highly recommended, for both the book and series.

No comments: