Allen & Unwin, April 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom
Norman Roche was convicted and hung in the 1920’s for the murder of Elsie
Cameron on a chicken farm in the English county of Essex. The opening
paragraph quickly drags you in: “…Could any girl predict that a man she
met in church would hack her to pieces four years later…” Right up to his
death Norman, a deeply religious man, protested his innocence.
The First World War has just come to a conclusion, and there is a drastic
shortage of men. Elsie is frightened of being left on the shelf. When she
lays eyes on Norman in church she quickly decides that he will be her
husband. Like a startled rabbit in the path of oncoming headlights, Norman
finds himself agreeing to marry Elsie and moves away to Essex, to start a
It becomes increasingly obvious that Elsie has serious mental problems,
and Norman desperately tries to get out of the relationship – especially
when he falls in love with Bessie. But would Norman kill to get free from
Elsie’s clutches? The police certainly think so, and so does a jury who
pronounced him guilty.
Minette Walters wrote CHICKENFEED for the Quick Reads project, which was a
British 2006 World Book Day initiative, designed to entice developing
readers and adult learners into the wonderful world of books. It is a
quick read, well written, and keeps you hooked until the last page. I read
it in one sitting, but there are plenty of natural breaks in the story for
a slower reader to be able to put the book down and start again later
without loosing the flow. Walters has taken a true story and fictionalised
it to present her version of a possible scenario behind the actual murder.
She cleverly builds the story around excerpts of actual letters that were
exchanged between Elsie and Norman. I recommend CHICKENFEED for both
beginner and advanced readers.
May 2006 Review originally published on Murder and Mayhem
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