Chickenfeed, by Minette Walters, is based on the true story of the ‘chicken farm murder’ which took place in East Sussex in December 1924. It was written as a Quick Read; a short, compelling and accessible work of fiction created to encourage more reluctant readers to pick up a book.
The protagonist, eighteen year old Norman Thorne, is flattered when the slightly older Elsie Cameron singles him out for attention after church one Sunday morning. Elsie is desperate for romance and dreams of getting married, but in the aftermath of the First World War suitable men are in short supply. Elsie is not good looking and is known to be moody. Few have paid her any attention.
Norman’s father is not pleased when the couple start to walk out together. He agrees to lend his son money to enable him to set up a small poultry farm in Sussex in the hope that he will lose interest in the girl. Elsie is determined not to let this happen.
What unfolds is a tragic story of loneliness, weakness and manipulation as both Norman and Elsie try to force each other to acquiesce to their desires. This is a believable tale of a relationship gone sour.
Norman was hanged for murder but always maintained his innocence. Elsie’s unstable state of mind was common knowledge but so too was Norman’s desire to have her out of his life.
The reader’s attention is grabbed from the first page to the last. Whatever opinion may be formed from the facts, questions remain. The author is not alone in asking, were Norman’s intentions proved ‘beyond reasonable doubt’?
I will be distributing copies of this book in Chippenham, Wiltshire on World Book Night.