Chickenfeed – Minette Walters (2006) – A Murder They Wrote Review



One of the continuing aims of World Book Day/Night is to get reluctant readers immersed into the world of books.  Back in 2006 a set of “Quick Reads” were published in an initiative between publishing and other related industries.  Twelve popular authors were asked to produce short, fast-paced books to bring people back into reading and to encourage the emerging adult reader.  It was a highly successful enterprise which has been repeated in subsequent years.  Amongst this first batch of Quick Read authors were Val McDermid, John Francome, Ruth Rendell, Maeve Binchey and Minette Walters who was presented with the Readers’ Favourite Award for this short novel “Chickenfeed”.

I have read three earlier Walters novels, “The Breaker” (1998) which I really enjoyed, her 1993 breakthrough novel “The Sculptress” which I had more reservations about and “The Tinder Box” a novella from two years prior to “Chickenfeed”.  I’ve seen that book described as a “Chapbook”, I’m not sure what constitutes that in the 21st Century.

In “Chickenfeed” Walters fictionalises a real-life crime. It has a simple plot-line, understandably given its length and scope and much is given away in just a few lines on the back cover.  I like the surprise element of reading and often do not read back covers until I’ve finished the book and too big a reveal is the main reason why.

The murder took place in the 1920s on a chicken farm and it’s a tale of boy meets girl, girl has unrealistic expectations, boy wants to get rid of girl but she won’t take the hint- a universal life-lesson theme but here it ends in tragedy.

The most interesting and thought-provoking aspect can be found in the author’s notes at the back of the back where Walters doubts the established turn of events and gives a very valid reason why.  This challenges what has been assumed before and if I was a reader with limited recent experience of books I might just feel stimulated by this doubt raised and want to read more.  This book could very well be an entrée into crime fiction and true crime accounts.

By its very nature this is a slight book but well handled.  As I didn’t read the back cover I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out or even who was going to be murdered.  I read it in under an hour, the largish clear print meant I could read it on the bus without my usual slightly nauseous feeling and it was certainly time well spent.  Just sometimes there’s a lot to be said for a “quick read”.


Chickenfeed was published by Pan Books in 2006

The Sculptress – Minette Walters (1993) – A Murder They Wrote Review

imagesN8KPZ1YTsculptressAfter reading my first Walters novel “The Breaker” (1998) and thoroughly enjoying it I thought I’d go back and explore her earlier work and this is where I began. This is probably her most famous book, because of a BBC TV series which starred Pauline Quirke (I never saw it) playing the grotesque, overweight Olive Martin, a convicted axe murder found guilty of chopping up her mother and sister. The central character is a female writer who is reluctantly commissioned to write Olive’s life story and what starts off as a gruesome search for sensationalism leads to the belief that Olive may be innocent. For me main character Roz is the weak point. She isn’t particularly likeable or convincing. This is especially the case with her relationship with a retired policeman from the case- a relationship which seems implausible and unreal. Olive, a larger than life figure, is relegated to the sidelines in the novel and this seems a bit of a missed opportunity. I wonder if the part was beefed up (in every sense) for the TV series. I would have liked more Olive and less of Roz and her policeman turned restauranteur. It all resolves itself well with a lot of possible scenarios going on at once. Walters seems to be deft at handling plot strands. It is reasonably well-paced and there is skilful storytelling. It is twenty two years old and crime novels do date and I am convinced that later novels will show more rounded characterisation cementing Minette Walter’s reputation as one of Britain’s best crime writers.     threestars