After the funeral of a Cambridge solicitor. who has, apparently, committed suicide, his mistress claims he was murdered. An engagement ring, worth £350, goes missing and the intended bride, having been reminded of its cost too many times, goes off the groom. The daughter of a ex-con, turned jazz club owner, is murdered. An aristocrat, reluctant to share his art collection with the National Trust, is murdered during a stage production of Julius Caesar. These are just some of the six longish short stories, set in 1953 and 1954, featuring Canon Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester, and reluctant detective.
Serious, mild-mannered, self-effacing, in every way ‘vicarious’, Sidney rides a bicycle and enjoys cricket. When his friend, Amanda, arranges for him to be given a Labrador puppy, he is concerned about never having looked after a dog before, that it will needs walks, inconvenience his cleaner and upset the precarious equilibrium between his clerical calling and the outside world. He worries that his crime-solving is getting in the way of his proper job. He won’t do it anymore… but then his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating, whom he meets weekly to play backgammon in the pub finds him another case. A reluctant detective, he considers himself to be a poor priest, despite being very conscientious in his parish and giving a lot of thought to he will preach about next.
Sidney Chambers believes it is his duty always to think the best of people. People will talk to him, because he is so gentle and non-judgmental. This is what makes him so useful in crime-solving. Eminently likable. His love-interest is the wealthy socialite and art historian, Amanda, but he doesn’t wish to impose upon her because, really, when he thinks about it, being a clergy wife probably wouldn’t suit her. He has a sort of posh(ish) family in London, a sensible sister, Jennifer, and a brother, Matt, who is a jazz musician. Sidney is also passionately fond of jazz, and, when asked, can’t explain why, the sign of a real aficionado.
The setting is comfortable, enjoyable and beguiling. I want to be there in Grantchester in 1953 with him. The only flaw in the scenario, to my mind, is that Geordie Keating uses Sidney’s skills and time too freely, ordering him about as if he were a paid employee of the police force. Sidney is not a pushover, and certainly believes in putting his God and his church first, so, for me, that aspect doesn’t work too well.
Read Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death (non-Amazon link). This book, which was published by Bloomsbury in 2012, and is the first in the Grantchester Mysteries series. James Runcie, the son of Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has also written many other works, including Canvey Island and the Discovery of Chocolate. The Shadow of Death is the first one I’ve read. Will I read more in this series? Oh yes, Dear Reader.