Cover image for Chicken shack
Chicken shack
Fritchley, Alma, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London : Women's, 2000.
Physical Description:
219 pages ; 20 cm.
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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A Texan developer wants to buy Letty Campbell's neighbour's farm and turn it into a health spa. This volume in the Chicken series taxes Letty's detective skills to the limit as she discovers that the health farm is not at all what it seems.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Letty Campbell is perhaps the only chicken farmer/sleuth in the business. Almost certainly she is mystery fiction's only vegetarian/lesbian/chicken farmer/sleuth. Happily, the plucky Yorkshire lass is in her usual engaging form in her fourth outing, following 1999's Chicken Out. There are plenty of changes going on in Letty's busy life, from disposing of land inherited from a neighbor, to her mother's engagement to a wealthy Scottish colonel, to an unexpected boarder and a new love interest. Her neighbor's farmland (now hers) attracts the interest of high-octane American businesswoman Chris Crozier, who wants to build a health and beauty spa on it. Her mother's fianc‚'s family has some odd criminal offshoots, and Letty ends up with some very unlikely allies when her inveterate curiosity leads her into danger. As she carves out a place for herself in the village of Calderton, Letty can't help winning friends with her decency and helpfulness. While Fritchley offers nicely drawn eccentric characters and the kind of humor one hopes for in a good cozy, she offsets it with grittier scenes more common to harder-edged stories. And Fritchley gets high marks for producing some exceptionally fine passages about car chases and wrecks. With proper marketing muscle behind it, this is a series with potential to go well beyond its obvious niche audience. (Mar. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Julia Rossi, my best friend and one-time lover, had finally lost the plot.     `How much land do you own, exactly?' she asked, giving me a long sideways glance from under her floppy fringe. Those piercing grey eyes, inherited from her Italian parents, tried and failed to hide the obvious monetary interest.     I sighed. As if she didn't know. She knew my finances, my love life (or lack of it) and every other aspect of my existence as well as I did.     Better, sometimes, which was annoying.     I gazed across the land in question. Even the bright spring sunlight of this May Bank Holiday didn't illuminate one end of my property to the other. My current acreage covered more than the eye could see. Julia reckoned that at the rate I was inheriting land -- firstly my chicken farm left to me by my Aunt Cynthia whose questionable past had made my independence possible, and now the spread next door bequeathed to me by Cynthia's wartime lover -- I would end up owning half of Yorkshire.     I didn't want to own half of Yorkshire. I didn't know what to do with the land I'd already got .     My neighbours had been full of suggestions, though.     `A cinema would be nice,' chirped my old friend Mrs Buckham, owner of Calderton's corner. `You could have theme nights.'     `Theme nights?'     `Or eras,' the elderly woman had proposed.     `Eras?'     `Victorian, Edwardian ...'     `Did they have cinema in those days?' I asked, wide-eyed.     `Silent, then. Thirties gangster films. War films, cowboy films, martial arts films. Gay films.' She smiled at me, thinking that would clinch it.     `I wouldn't get planning permission,' I pointed out.     `You don't need it.' She sniffed. `I know the farmhouse has been knocked down, but you could convert the old barn. It's big enough. Who'd ever know?'     I didn't point out that knowing Calderton's bush telegraph the whole world would get wind of it by teatime.     As a stopgap I'd rented part of the property to Stan, a neighbouring farmer. As Julia and I surveyed the fields, several dozen sheep and their new offspring, just past the cute lamb stage, nibbled idly at the grass. Lamb chops to some, a new winter coat to others, money in the bank to me. God, I was getting more farmer-like with each passing day.     I turned to Julia. `Shouldn't you be at work?'     Reluctantly, she checked her watch. `Eight o'clock. Another half-hour yet and knowing my luck my buyer is bound to be late -- they're never on time. I hate working on bank holidays,' she moaned, scraping mud from the soles of her highly polished Chelsea boots. She left a small mound of muck and grass on the bottom rung of the fencing on which we were leaning. `I think you should consider my suggestion, though.'     `Julia,' I groaned. `Mrs Buckham's cinema idea's got more going for it. A health farm? In Calderton? Who'd come? ... No, who in their right mind would come?' I corrected. She grinned and a gold-capped tooth glinted in the sunlight.     Though forty-odd, Julia acted (and admitted she felt) as though she only just hit thirty. I suspected HRT, though she adamantly denied it. `You'll know when I'm menopausal,' she'd threatened. I'd known Julia for more than ten years and had lived through every disaster and every trauma, whether work, woman or family related, she'd ever suffered. Life, for her, was sweet at the moment, hence the heavy involvement in my affairs. She'd been with her current lover, Sita Joshi, our local MP, for a couple of years and her job as part-owner and saleswoman at the local garage kept her in cars, and the bank in business. The only continuing cross she had to bear was her work colleague AnnaMaria, my previous lover's niece.     Honestly, it's not as complicated as it sounds ...     Julia looked at her watch again and continued in the same persuasive tones. `Actually, I could probably supply you with a list of who would come. It would be more popular than you think.'     That hung in the air for a moment or two.     `Oh, I don't know, Julia,' I sighed, trying to envision the sort of exclusive club she thought would be successful. `It's a million miles away from farming after all. Imagine what the villagers would say about it. And the council would certainly kick up a stink. God, the uproar.'     `As long as it's used for something, I can't see the problem,' she retorted, and then seeing my face, laughed. `All right, all right, I get the message.' She went quiet for a moment but the silence was obviously killing her. I should have known she couldn't let it rest. `The thing is,' she went on, all wide-eyed and innocent.     `The thing is?'     She looked into the distance and weighed her words carefully. `Well, how much interest has your advert stirred, hmm?'     I followed her gaze. `Not much,' I admitted.     `One,' Julia said firmly. `You've had one bite, Letty.'     My attempts to sell, lease or otherwise get rid of this excess of land had failed despite repeat adverts in farming magazines and the local press. In all honesty, the property didn't have much going for it. With the recent furore surrounding genetically modified foods and farming being in such a slump, the spectacular indifference shown to George's place had come as no great surprise. The farmhouse was long gone, its infrastructure ruined by extensive flooding, years of neglect, a rotten roof and El Niño-type storms the previous year. The barn hadn't been in quite the same sorry state and an insurance payout had ensured its survival (and reinvention as extremely generous living quarters) for at least another hundred years. Even so, I'd been disappointed by the non-response to the adverts. I sighed again: perhaps I'd be stuck with it for ever.     `The problem,' I said, `is that this one bite you are so fond of reminding me about was from an acquaintance of yours and frankly, Julia, that worries me.'     `You have no faith,' she insisted, hiding a smile.     `And is there any wonder! You and your friends have dropped me in the shit often enough in the past. Or have you forgotten?'     Julia squirmed, though it didn't take her long to get over it.     `This woman has contacts you wouldn't dream about. Good contacts. Loaded contacts,' she added with some force.     `You've been trying to convince me for, how long now? I lease or sell the land, your contact organises everything from there.' There was an odd feeling of déjà vu about this conversation, I'd been down a similar route before; cajoled too easily by Julia's soft-soaping.     `Exactly!' Julia chimed in. `A simple solution, and a temporary one, if you want it to be.' She draped an arm around my shoulders and gave me a hug. `It'll give you something else to think about,' she whispered in my ear. `You know Anne's moving to London soon, you can't fret about her for ever.'     Now that stung. Anne, AnnaMaria's aunt, had been my partner for six years until she'd found herself a younger, richer and more experienced model. Christ, an-everything-I-wasn't model. For months I'd felt like an old racehorse put out to pasture.     `That's not fair, Julia,' I protested. But it was, and she was right. She squeezed my shoulder again. `Look,' I conceded. `I'll talk to AnnaMaria about it. She might not want that kind of place on her doorstep.' AnnaMaria had lived in my attic with her young son since his birth more than three years ago. `You know how she gets with those snotty types you knock about with. And she's been on the receiving end of some of your hare-brained schemes too. They haven't always been pleasant experiences.' I made another futile attempt to remind her of her dodgy past.     Julia's grin broadened and she kissed my cheek. `Letty,' she said. `You're a wonderful woman. I never believe anything they say about you.'     `Who -- ?' ! began and then realised she was joking. `Go to work, go to work. Sell some cars for God's sake. Do what you're good at,' I said and shooed her away. Copyright © 2000 Alma Fritchley. All rights reserved.

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