The Chicken Soup Murder

Maria Donovan
Publication Date: 
Saturday, September 23, 2017
No votes yet

‘Handled with great sensitivity, this has great comedy, exciting developments and very moving moments, right through until the nicely worked solution to the mystery.’ – The Daily Mail

‘The Chicken Soup Murder is a thought provoking, yet gentle heartfelt hug of a tale, and a very lovely read indeed.’ – Love Reading

‘A thoroughly original, startling and very good novel indeed.’ - Fay Weldon

‘A beautifully written debut, with characters to fall in love with.’ – Danny Wallace

‘Fresh, suspenseful and tantalising’ – Christopher Meredith

‘A lovely, warm-hearted novel about love and grief.’ – Francesca Rhydderch

​‘I was gripped until the very last sentence’ – Frost Magazine

‘Full of humour and written with a big heart’ – Tracy Baines

Maria Donovan’s debut novel, The Chicken Soup Murder, subverts the crime and murder mystery genres in a meditation on bereavement, friendship and the meaning of family. This emotionally involving coming-of-age narrative is told with resilience and humour by eleven-year-old Michael, a thoughtful boy who tests the boundaries of his own behaviour as he carries a burden of knowledge no one else seems willing to share.

Michael’s happy early life in a small seaside town – a cosy world of cricket and football, experiences shared with his best friend Janey and her family – is disrupted by the arrival of a bully, and blasted by visitations from Death: the biggest bully of them all. Within Michael’s own past are unanswered questions: why does he live with his grandmother? Are his parents really in prison? His magical creative thinking lands him in trouble: how reliable is his story and why is he the only one who thinks that a murder has been committed? What can he, a schoolboy about to turn twelve, do about it? Haunted by the injustice of a killing, he takes on the burden of trying to do the right thing: first helping the widowed mother of his best friend,  and then seeking justice for a murdered woman, as he resorts to making trouble in order to get at the truth. As Michael struggles to help himself and the people he cares for to move on, he learns about the acceptance of the facts of natural death – whether unexpected or predictable, caused by illness or accident. He sees what happens to those left behind when a loved one dies and, above all, how to recognise and overcome the stumbling block formed by the deliberate taking of a life to those who are grieving.





Review by Tracy Gow, DURA

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“The day before the murder, George Bull tried to poison me with a cheese sandwich.”

With this hook, Maria Donovan opens her debut novel, The Chicken Soup Murder. The narrator is eleven-year-old Michael Davies, battling lactose intolerance alongside the perplexities of impending adolescence in a small coastal town in Dorset. Michael lives with his Nan and liked his life before George Bull and his dad, PC Shawn Bull moved in next door with Nan’s friend, Irma. The cosy arc of pebble-dashed houses was a happy community. In the summer there were barbecues and cricket with his best friend, Janey and in the winter, there was Hallowe’en, bonfire night and fireworks. But Michael’s world is turned upside down when Janey’s dad dies. Janey’s mum crumples under the weight of grief, withdrawing into the safe confines of her dressing gown. Then Irma dies suddenly whilst making chicken soup, and Michael can’t accept that she died of natural causes. He is convinced that he witnessed something strange though the kitchen window and suspects PC Shawn Bull of murdering her. Why else would all the evidence of the soup she’d been making have disappeared?

If the opening line of the novel is reminiscent of Adrian Mole, it is because there is humour to be found amongst its themes of love, loss, family secrets and above all, growing up. Donovan evokes a strong sense of place and time. The novel is set in 2012 and meticulously draws on the sporting events of that year – the Olympics, Andy Murray’s tearful defeat – and the weather, mostly rainy. In a recent interview with Tracy Baines, Donovan said that she’d kept a detailed diary of things that were going on in that year because she wanted her story to feel realistically rooted in time. Throughout the novel, the cricket commentary plays like a radio in the next room and this was particularly important to Donavan because: “I think people notice when they are grieving: this odd sense that everything is carrying on just as before, while for you everything has changed.”

Donovan speaks from experience. She lost her own husband, Mike a couple of years before she began writing The Chicken Soup Murder and in between she had been writing shorter pieces which expressed the way she was feeling. Shapeshifting into the mind of an eleven-year-old boy allowed her to get a fresh perspective on grief, and it works well. Not only is Michael trying to come to terms with his own feelings about death, but he’s also a witness to Janey’s struggles with her bereaved mother and her frustration with trying to do normal things like play at a county football match.

“‘Dad would have taken me.’
Her mum sticks out her chin. ‘But he’s not here, is he?’
‘It’s not very Judy Murray of you, is it, Mum?’
‘I don’t want to see my girl crying because she’s lost.’
Janey walks out. I think she’s crying already.”

Michael’s determination to prove that Irma was murdered drives the narrative and gives Donovan the opportunity to flesh out the Michael character, though not always sympathetically. As the victim of bullying by George, Michael seeks to turn the tables on him at the earliest opportunity and then bullies him back. There are spiky exchanges with his Nan and pangs of jealousy when Janey strikes up a friendship with ‘Golden Boy.’ We are in no doubt that Michael’s intentions are good, but it is credit to Donovan that his reactions and responses feel authentic for a pre-pubescent boy.

The mystery of Irma’s death and the mystery of why Michael lives with his Nan are neatly resolved at the end of the book, and there is a sense that everything will work out in the end. A highly recommended read.

Review by Liz Robinson, Love Reading

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A short, seemingly simple, yet complex and rather wonderful novel about a young boy coming to terms with life, death, and everything in-between. Eleven year old Michael believes that a murder has taken place, and he tells his own story. The first sentence sets the scene with dramatic intensity, and left me with the hint of raised eyebrows, the possibility of a smirk. The tale begins the day before the murder, and background information is gradually filled in, allowing the connection to Michael to grow, to be nurtured. Maria Donovan explores sorrow, confusion, anger, friendship and love, all from the viewpoint of an eleven year old, with such thoughtfulness and compassion. I loved getting to know Michael and his companions, he entered my heart, he made me smile, and occasionally wince. ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ is a thought provoking, yet gentle heartfelt hug of a tale, and a very lovely read indeed.


Review by Lucy Menon, Buzz Magazine

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

When a book opens with, “The day before the murder, George Bull tried to poison me with a cheese sandwich”, you know you’re onto a winner. Maria Donovan’s novel is definitely one you won’t want to put down. Told from the perspective of Michael, an adolescent, the story charts the disruption of his life – from his best friend’s father dying, to his school bully moving in next door and culminating in the demise of neighbour Irma. Michael is suspicious of George the bully and his father (who now lives with Irma) and believes she has been murdered whilst making him chicken soup. Michael lives with his grandmother and there is a mystery surrounding the absence of his parents. However, after Irma’s death, secrets from the past threaten to surface and Michael’s grandmother must decide what is the best course of action. The story is a moving depiction of loss and grief and the extraordinary ways people deal with the aftermath. After Irma dies, Michael continues to have visions of her lurking under his bed. Despite its sombre subject matter, the book is humorous and the child-narrator is a refreshing voice. Donovan’s well-balanced novel has keen observations of human motivation, carefully-drawn characters and well-executed moments of bathos. With other surprising sub-plots and set against real events from 2012, this story has depth and is a great one for curling up with now the nights are drawing-in, but not necessarily with a mug of soup…


Review by Helen Corton, Random Things Through My Letterbox

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The murder itself is that of Michael’s neighbour and Nan’s best friend Irma, suddenly, one afternoon, while she was making chicken soup. The problem Michael has is that he’s the only one that thinks she was murdered, and the adults in his life are all refusing to listen to his concerns, believing her to have died of natural causes. You follow the characters through to find out what really happened to Irma and how life pans out for everyone in this complex web.

I adored this book. Michael is a loveable character with a lot of problems and throughout the book I was able to be affectionate to his point of view even when I didn’t agree with his actions. His voice tells the story so you are given access to his thinking and motivations. The other characters are strong too and the plot is really well timed, at no point was I struggling to get through it, I just wanted to find out what happens! The ending especially really pays off and I loved the themes of moving into adulthood and how humans cope with grief and loss. I think a great way to sum this book up is to call it ‘subtle’ – there’s a lot going on within the innocence in the text.

One of the strongest themes is about family secrets, and the lies we tell people we love in order to protect them from the truth, how those people react when they find out the truth, on top of feeling betrayed that they have been in the dark all along and lose trust of the secret keepers. Family relationships are deeply complicated and appear over and over again in literature, this family have their own unique issues to work out like all others, I loved finding out what they were.

I’d definitely recommend this book to all; it’s warm and intriguing and took me back to the chaos of adolescence within a great story.


Review by Fanny Blake, The Daily Mail

Friday, October 13, 2017

Written in the voice of 11-year-old Michael, who suspects a murder committed by a neighbour, this novel inevitably evokes Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.

But it quickly establishes an identity and panache of its own, vividly painting the immediate social world of a prickly, precocious boy brought up by his nan, but with emotional ties to the neighbouring adults and children.

The plot is firmly rooted in its setting (a town close to Dorset’s Jurassic Coast) and time (2012), but the theme of a child’s dawning awareness of the lives of adults, and the beginning of his own transition away from childish things, is universal.

Handled with great sensitivity, this has great comedy, exciting developments and very moving moments, right through until the nicely worked solution to the mystery.

Read more:

Review by Tracy Baines, Frost Magazine

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Although Maria Donovan has had great success with her short stories this is her first foray into longer fiction – and I dearly hope this debut novel is swiftly followed by another. It has such warmth and humour – which isn’t bad for a story about murder and death.

Michael lives with his nan in a little town near the sea with its magic hills and the three pebbled dashed semis in a long arc. But everything is turned upside down when the Bulls move in next door and Michael’s magical creative thinking lands him in trouble: why is he the only one who thinks a murder has been committed? Can we believe his story?

As Michael struggles to help himself and the people he cares for to move on, he learns about acceptance and grief, and to what happens to those who are left behind when a loved one dies.

Reading the above you might think that this would be a maudlin, fearful book but its not like that at all. Although Donovan explores the many repercussions of death – on family, friends and neighbours, she has a light touch and paints a varied picture of grief as it is, in its everyday shabbiness and unwashed clothes, in the difficulties of holding on and letting go.

The narrator, eleven-year-old Michael, just about to go up to ‘Big School’, leads the reader through the happenings at the three semis in the street where he lives; his own home where he lives with Nan, Irma the next door neighbour and best-friend Janey and her family at the house on the end.

It would do the novel a great injustice to describe it purely as a murder mystery because it is so much more. It is about what makes a family, what holds it together and how friends and neighbours can be family too. How much they become a part of the very fabric of our lives. I was gripped until the very last sentence.

User Reviews

Sorry there are no reviews yet for this book