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by Minette Walters
Pan, March 2006
128 pages
ISBN: 0330440314

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Getting both adults and children to read is OK by me -- and a collection of Quick Reads is a cunning plan.

The initiative, part of World Book Day in the UK (March 2), includes accessible books from a range of best-selling authors, including Minette Walters. And her contribution, CHICKENFEED, turns out to be a little gem.

Anyone familiar with her work will know she often uses stories from the newspapers as a jumping-off point. CHICKENFEED explores the rocky love affair between young chicken farmer Norman Thorne, and his neurotic girlfriend Elsie Cameron.

The story is set in 1924. Elsie is desperate to get married. Norman is equally desperate to get away from London, so, with the help of some money from his father, sets up a chicken farm in East Sussex.

The enterprise seems destined to fail, though, but Norman, rapidly getting cold feet when he sees how clingy Elsie is, uses the down-at-heel farm as an excuse for why they must postpone the marriage.

Then Elsie is found dead on the farm. Norman is sentenced to death, but continues to insist he is innocent.

The back story, based on the real life 'chicken farm murder', clearly fascinated Walters, who went off to do some research, then took what happened in her own, but potentially plausible, direction.

Here's a book that does what it says on the tin . . . it's a swift and easy read, but keeps the reader hooked. And even in the space of 120 pages Walters can ink in stark portraits of her characters.

She's often in the past broken away from the conventional presentation of a story -- in this instance she intersperses the narrative with letters from the main protagonists to keep the story ticking over.

CHICKENFEED proves that Walters has the knack of writing engrossing stories, whether she has 320 or 120 pages at her disposal.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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