Monday, April 11, 2016
Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie
It's 1953, and Sidney Chambers has returned from the war, where he fought with the Scots Guards. He's in his early 30s, loves warm beer and hot jazz. He plays cricket and loves to read. He was appointed vicar of Grantchester in 1952, and it's there he met Inspector George Keating, who goes by Geordie. The two get together for backgammon and beer on a weekly basis, unless there is a murder. If it's a complex or touchy case, either may call the other for help. Why is Sidney Chambers involved? "It was none of his business; but then he remembered that, as a priest, everything was his business."
In this first volume, readers meet the characters that have ongoing roles in the books and the TV series; Sidney, Geordie, the two women that Sidney is attracted to, the wealthy Amanda Kendall and the widow Hildegard Staunton, as well as Sidney's sister, Jenny, and her friends. And, Sidney and Geordie find themselves involved in cases dealing with the murder of a young woman, not yet eighteen, at a jazz club, a forged painting, the theft of an engagement ring, the murder of a wealthy patron of the arts. In all the cases, Geordie represents the legal aspect of the investigation while Sidney tends to look at every investigation as a story about people with human failings. He looks at the moral aspects of the mysteries.
The Grantchester mysteries are stories featuring mystery, poetry, thoughtful discussions of the state of the world in 1953 in England. The stories are observations as to the lifestyles and opinions in England at that period of time. There are observations about classes, race, homosexuality. The discussions and observations are part of the appeal of these quiet mysteries.
But, it's hard to have an appealing mystery series without an interesting sleuth. The Grantchester mysteries combine the skills of an amateur and a police detective, but Sidney Chambers is obviously the one who depends on his knowledge, understanding and sympathy for his fellow human beings, with all their failings and weaknesses. Runcie's mysteries may seem simple, but, like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Sidney understands his neighbors. Often he struggles to find that understanding, but Sidney's struggles add to the pleasure of the book.
Even if you've seen the episodes on PBS, it's worth picking up Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death to hear the musings about morals and poetry, and life.
James Runcie's website is www.jamesruncie.com
Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie. Bloomsbury. 2012. 9781632862891 (paperback), 392p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.