Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Written by James Runcie — GK Chesterton brought us the Father Brown stories, Ralph McInery the Father Dowling mysteries and Anne Emery wrote about Father Brennan Burke. Clergymen turning into amateur sleuths may not be a new phenomenon but it’s definitely a formula that works well, and James Runcie’s debut novel in his planned Grantchester Mysteries series introduces a new detective in a dog collar to the fold.

The village of Grantchester lies on the River Cam within a leisurely walk of Cambridge, and is possibly most famous for having been the home of WWI poet Rupert Brooke. Our story opens in October 1953 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is still fresh in people’s memories. Sidney Chambers is the 32-year-old jazz loving vicar in the parish church of St Andrew & St Mary. He’s also an honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral and is busy preparing himself for the busiest time of the liturgical year.

This is essentially a collection of six short, self-contained stories which flow one into the next covering a period of 12 months. In the first case, Sidney is asked to look into the suicide of the man he has just buried, Stephen Staunton. The man’s lover believes he met his end by a hand other than his own. This is swiftly followed by the theft of an expensive engagement ring and Sidney’s discreet inquiries to uncover the culprit. Murder and theft seem to be the central issues, with the final two stories focusing on the theft of a painting by Holbein and the subsequent death of its owner.

During the course of the book we’re also introduced to a cast of supporting characters who aid Sidney in his endeavours. First there’s his friend Geordie Keating, a police inspector based at St Andrew’s Street in Cambridge. The two men meet each Thursday evening in the RAF bar of The Eagle public house to share a pint or two over a game of backgammon whilst sharing confidences. When he embarks on his first case, it’s to Geordie he turns for guidance, and he plays a role in each of Sidney’s cases. His sister Jennifer’s best friend, the socialite Amanda Kendall assists now and again as well, and Sidney is rather smitten with her. Then there’s his curate, Leonard Graham who fills in on the parish duties when Sidney’s sleuthing instincts take over.

The feel of the storytelling in this book is very reminiscent of the archetypal English amateur sleuth, so for fans of the classic detective or those styled on that formula, this will be a welcome new addition. Sidney’s a character you’ll find both endearing because he is well intentioned and sometimes slightly exasperating, especially where his relationship with Amanda is concerned. This is an enjoyable debut for a series that I look forward to following. It’s available from 10 May.

Bloomsbury
Print/Kindle
£9.74

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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