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Susan Wittig Albert

Genre: Amateur Sleuth, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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Jane Austen's done it. So has Louisa May Alcott. Now add Beatrix Potter to the list.

The author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and other classic children's tales is the latest Victorian-era scribe to become an amateur sleuth, courtesy of a contemporary mystery writer. Her "creator," Susan Wittig Albert, came up with the idea to use Potter in a mystery series 10 years ago, when she appeared as a character in Death at Gallows Green, the second book of another Victorian-era series that Albert writes with her husband, Bill (as Robin Paige).

"I'm attracted by rural life, as was Potter," says Albert, who lives in the Texas hill country, 60 miles northwest of Austin. "Also, she had an insatiable curiosity—she wanted to know everything. She had a limited experience of life, but she used it just as fully as she could, so I thought she'd make a good sleuth."

The first in an eight-book series, The Tale of Hill Top Farm (Berkley Prime Crime) is set in 1905, when Potter bought Hill
Top Farm in England's Lake District, after the death of her editor–fiancé. The series will follow her life through her marriage in 1913 and, like Potter's own tales, feature talking animals.

"These animals have their own independent plots and themes, which mirror the larger plots and themes," says Albert, who hopes the series will appeal to readers of all ages.

In fact, the Alberts wrote young adult novels—more than 60 from 1986 to 1991, including five Nancy Drew and two Hardy Boys books—before turning to adult fiction. "It was a good apprenticeship," Albert says, "and when we got tired of the simplicity of the young adults, we were fortunate to be able to move on."

But her Nancy Drew experience influenced her first adult mystery series, featuring herbalist China Bayles, who's appeared in 12 novels and a collection of short stories since 1992, most recently A Dilly of a Death (which sparked a plethora of pickle jokes that can be found on her website). "What characterized Nancy Drew was the close relationship among young women and the idea that they can do anything they choose to," Susan says, "and you see some of that in the China Bayles books."

The Beatrix Potter series won't keep Albert from continuing with her other two series. The next China Bayles book, Deadman's Bones, is slated for January release, and another Victorian mystery featuring Kate Ardleigh and Sir Charles Sheridan, Death at Blenheim Palace, will hit stores in March.

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