In 2014, ITV broadcasted the first episode of Grantchester, a drama series based on books by British novelist, James Runcie. Although written during the twenty-first century, the story is set in the 1950s in a village on the outskirts of Cambridge. Sidney Chambers, a young Canon in charge of the Church of St Andrew and Mary, is a polite and friendly character who, despite his reluctance, ends up acting as a detective in a variety of crimes.
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is the first book of six in The Grantchester Mysteries. Split into six individual baffling cases, the background story of Sidney’s private life continues to develop throughout. Each crime is committed and swiftly solved by the Canon and his friend, Inspector Geordie Keating, although it is Sidney who ultimately resolves the case.
Murder, jewellery theft and art forgery and just some of the felonies Sidney grudgingly gets involved with. In fact, unresolved crimes tend to land in his lap rather than offering his assistance willingly. Up at dawn to work on sermons before rushing off to capture criminals, Sidney is never off duty.
A vicar may seem like an unlikely candidate for a detective, however, people tend to open up to him and unintentionally reveal delitescent information. Listening to suspects and witnesses without pre-judgement allows Sidney to think things through carefully rather than jumping to conclusions. From the moment the crime is committed right up until the story’s denouement, Sidney passionately does everything he can to make sure the correct culprit is discovered.
What makes this series different from other crime novels is the focus on Sidney Chambers’ own life. James Runcie emphasises the loneliness of a bachelor living in a vicarage with only a curate and crotchety housekeeper for company. Readers are drawn into Sidney’s stories and hold onto the hope that his dalliances with the beautiful Amanda turn out to be something more concrete.
Those who have watched the ITV series will be familiar with the stories in this book because the producer has stuck to the exact storyline, not missing a single thing out or adding anything extra. The fact that there were only two years between publishing and screen production goes to show how well written and thought out these stories are. Unlike famous detective novels such as Sherlock Holmes or those by Agatha Christie, The Grantchester Mysteries are not set at the time of writing, so, although they are historically accurate, the prose is suitable for present day readers.
Each story is quick to read and is easy going, making it a relaxing and enjoyable book. It is not a thriller or horror, although some of the crimes are quite terrible. Instead, it is entertaining and often humorous. It is suitable for crime fiction fans as well as those new to the genre.
Regardless of whether you have watched the television series or not, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is a delight to read. Of course, ITV has given away all the endings, but it is a different experience to read it in print rather than seeing it acted out on screen. Featuring the face of James Norton on the cover so as to work as a TV tie-in, the series will be easy to spot in prime position on bookshelves both in shops and personal collections.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon