The book consists of six `long' short stories; a format with which readers of John Mortimer's Rumpole stories will be familiar. The stories also follow Sidney Chambers' life chronologically through nineteen fifty three and nineteen fifty four. Sidney is the mild mannered courteous Vicar of Grantchester near Cambridge. He meets a friend Inspector Geordie Keating every Thursday for two pints of beer and to play Backgammon. Sidney finds himself, frequently against his better judgement, involved in trying to investigate a variety of crimes of greater or lesser importance.
This is not a book which will please readers who prefer their crime with all its gory details but those who prefer to read novels which remind them of Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer will love this book. I found the characters believable and interesting and the nineteen fifties background is well done. People are polite to each other and things which are talked about freely today are glossed over and not discussed. This is how it was then.
Sidney finds people will talk to him much more freely than they will to the police and he can ask questions and obtain answers which the police would fail to do. Sidney is a likeable character. He doesn't enjoy Christmas and finds Lent frustrating. He is irritated when his friend Amanda wishes a Labrador puppy on to him because she thinks he is lonely but soon finds Dickens indispensible to his happiness. He is gradually realising that like his friend Geordie he is never off duty.
As must always be the case with short stories, the plots are slight but they are well constructed and I enjoyed trying to work out who was responsible for the crimes. If you enjoy Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer's crime novels and modern authors such a R T Raichev then you will enjoy Sidney Chambers. I shall be watching out for future books in this series.
I don't know about you but I am a bit tired of forensic mavericks who solve horrific murders and then get into deadly cat and mouse type showdowns with fiendish villains, while at the same time balancing disabled spouses and wayward children and appeasing unnecessary shouty bosses... and suchlike. This book, I was delighted to find, was not like that. Instead James Runcie has served up a well-baked and slightly sugared slice of old-fashioned amateur sleuthing with ne'er a pathology report or DNA result in sight and by heck it's a very pleasant change of pace. I'm reluctant to discuss any of the plot as I fear it might some people off and had I not received this book for free from Amazon Vine (thank you, Amazon) I doubt I would have chosen to buy it. What I'll say is I enjoyed it much more than I ever expected to, and found the plot developments to be intriguing and oddly satisfying. I read the book over the course of a very rainy weekend and the fact that I kept going back to it when I could have been doing something emminently more practical, or reading something more in-keeping with my usual literary choices, says a lot for the book. Is it an edge of the seat rollercoaster ride? Don't be daft, just look at the title! Is it reminiscent of Miss marple and Lord Peter Whimsy? I'll say! I have subsequently passed the book on to a couple of relatives and one said it was worth five stars (she's a big Agatha Christie fan), while the other (more likely to read Patricia Cornwell) said she liked it more than she expected and said it was maybe worth four.
on 1 August 2012
The main mystery surrounding Canon Sidney Chambers is how such a charming man has managed to remain single well into his thirties. He really is a most likeable, if somewhat reluctant, hero, and his interest in two very different ladies is one of the threads weaving through the six stories that make up this book. In each case, Sidney is reluctantly drawn into a crime and its associated moral dilemmas. He longs for a life of peaceful contemplation, or at least the chance to catch up with his paperwork and prepare a sermon properly, but events conspire otherwise.
Men of the cloth make ideal sleuths - they tend to be shrewd, unshockable judges of human nature, trusted by most people in the community and therefore able to keep a tactfully low profile and elicit the confidences that would be witheld from the police. It helps, of course, that Sidney's closest friend is a DI who trusts him implicitly, and that the book is set in the deferential society of the early 1950s. (Future books in the series are planned, eventually taking us up to 1981).
It would be very difficult to dislike Sidney. Even the villains he exposes generally accord him a grudging respect. Though relatively impoverished on his modest stipend, he moves among the English upper classes with practised ease, though he doesn't always care for their manners and their attitudes. On homosexuality, for example, which was of course illegal in 1954, he takes a compassionate and liberal line, but he doesn't hesitate to speak his mind when he sees a genuine breach of the law, or for that matter his moral code. It helps that he has had a distinguished military record; this is very much a world recovering from the Second World War, where his growing attraction to a German widow has to be handled with discretion.
Discretion, decency and politeness govern people's interactions in this book, and at first it seems cosy to the point of being anodyne, but the stories are better and more subtly written than they may at first appear to be. Runcie has created a geuninely good, yet attractive, protagonist - not an easy thing to pull off - who finds himself wrestling with increasingly challenging moral dilemmas as the mysteries darken in tone and subject matter. We are left with him facing an interesting decision point in his private life, and no doubt hoping he will be spared further dealings with the criminal fraternity; a hope that is unlikely to be realised, however, since Runcie has come up with a formula that is likely to race up the bestseller lists and, in the fullness of time, the Sunday evening TV ratings.
on 16 December 2014
Another reviewer called it the cosiest of cozy. Hmmm.
What did I like? I liked the protagonist and I also liked the way he kept his faith to the forefront. I also liked that it was written in the style of a book in the 1950s - all tell and no show. Because of that, the emotions were suitably restrained.
What didn't I like? Firstly, nobody who can quote latin with the ease of Sidney Chambers would say "bored of". He could be "bored with" or "bored by" or "weary of" or "tired of". I believe the author has a chair in literature. If so, shame on you!
Secondly, the plots. I have no idea why Mr Runcie has been likened to Christie or Dexter, since I worked out every single whodunnit long before Sidney did. I think perhaps the vehicle of a longish short story is not enough for the complexities we have come to expect. The books may be set in the 1950s, but the readers of 2014 expect more twists and turns. Make the twist, twist it again and, if you can, twist it again. Some historical facts were wrong. As someone who writes historical mysteries, I am paranoid about getting the facts straight, so there is absolutely no excuse for this.
Thirdly, the minor characters are not drawn halfway well enough. The housekeeper is there purely for comedic purposes, but she could be so much more. Even the dog appeared to have more about it than she did. And, if Mr Runcie ramped up her character, the comedic opportunities would be much more satisfying. Check out Simon Brett's Fethering mysteries to see what I mean.
on 24 September 2013
Loved the idea of this book in that it looks back to the 'masters' of crime fiction, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton but it goes on too much about people without showing a lot of insight or making me believe or even like them. They all seem to be characters from Cluedo! And the research shows in the 'casual' mention of news and films. The most annoying point of this book is that the research is sloppy e.g. eighteen is stated as the age of consent in 1954! It was 21 until the late 60s please! There are other slip ups but they are part of the plot/s and it would be a shame to spoil the stories for someone more forgiving than me.
on 21 August 2015
Perhaps because I knew that the Grantchester books had merited both a whole series of titles plus a TV adaptation, I was expecting a lot from this book. Alas, it didn't deliver. In fact it read almost like the first draft of a first book. The dialogue is stilted and the characters act like puppets created purely to serve the plot. Which wouldn't matter quite so much if the plots were worth serving but at best they are thin, and at worst they are almost non-existent. Sorry to be so negative, but when there are so many good books out there, I'm just amazed that this has achieved such success. Perhaps the later books are better.....
on 30 December 2015
This book is made up of 6 short detective stories with common characters and plot lines which link them together. Sidney Chambers is the Vicar of Grantchester and because of his good nature and ways with people he becomes a reluctant detective. He stumbles accross mysterious cases like theft, unexplained deaths and forgery which he will have to solve along with his friend Inspector Geordie Keating.
This is a slow paced and tranquil read for fans of old fashioned detective novels like Poirot, Miss Marple or the No 1 Ladies'Detective Agency. There is even a reference to one character reading Miss Christie's novels which is a nod to her style. The characters are very mild manered, quite posh and a little bland but the stories are quite enjoyable.
I received a free copy of this book to read, review and express my honest opinion. This is not the type of novels I tend to read but I quite enjoyed the pace and characters. This is a book to enjoy snuggled up under a blanket or in front of the fire with a cup of cocoa and to have a lovely and relaxing time. I have not watched the ITV adaptation but I can appreciate how this would make a good TV series for Sunday evenings. I have read the TV series is even better than the book and they are making a second series so I am glad we will enjoy more Sidney Chambers' adventures in the future.
on 11 September 2015
I bought this and the next volume in the series while they were on special offer for Kindle. It's rare that I don't finish a book, but I didn't finish this one and haven't even started the next. I admit I bought both on the strength of a) the TV series( enjoyable, well-casted fluff with a slightly darker edge at times) and b) having read and enjoyed James Runcie's debut novel The Discovery of Chocolate when it came out. I know from that book that Mr Runcie can write, and can write well. But that was literary fiction and this is genre detective fiction and it seems like a poor fit as if he has tried to squeeze his creative self into a mould that neither fits nor suits him. It's a shame because there is much scope for the characters, yet it never seems to gel.
Ho hum. I imagine the author has made a much better living from writing this series than he did from his original fiction, and that makes me sad for so many reasons.
James Runcie does a great job of reflecting life in the 1950s in this book, a series of stories about Canon Sidney Chambers. It is the first of the Grantchester novels, now made into an itv series. The first story is The Shadow of Death', in which Sidney first becomes an amateur detective. A solicitor has apparently committed suicide but after the funeral, the man's lover asks Sidney to investigate whether his death was actually a murder. Sidney is in his early thirties and has been fast-tracked to the position of vicar of Grantchester and made a canon, no doubt because of his Cambridge education and his upper-class connections, but he is also a highly principled and able man. The first story also introduces Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, his partner in the investigations that follow, and Hildegarde Staunton, the dead man's German widow, who becomes increasingly important in Sidney's life, as well as the exciting Amanda Keating.
The stories are simply yet intelligently written, reflecting the cultivated world of English intellectuals, artists and musicians, as well as the Anglican church of the mid-twentieth century. They cover about five years of Sidney's life, so that by the end of the book he is 38. There is a lot of dialogue - too much, sometimes - and the writing has a gentle humour and decency. Most stories are murder mysteries, though not quite all.Jazz, drugs, art forgery, academic life at Cambridge and Shakespearean productions are sll involved, along with Sidney's gentle ruminations about the meaning of life.
James Runcie writes with authority about the Anglican church because he knows it very well, being the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. He also writes knowledgeably about music and academic life at Cambridge University, of which he is a graduate. It all makes a fascinating picture of a pleasantly cultivated world and its jealousies, rivalries and snobberies. Despite the slightly unsatisfying nature of short stories, even though linked by enjoyable characters, I enjoyed it very much.
on 27 June 2012
What a super start to a new mystery series.
Canon Sidney Chambers is a joy. Charming,insightful, gentle and intriguing - and with that knack for subtly effective meddling that the very best clerics have in spades.
I confess that when I started to read the book, I assumed that it was an entire novel & not novella's But that does not detract from this accomplished book.
Each of the six mysteries reveal more of Sidney's character & relationships with some very deft chracterisations, and just the right amount of wit to satisfy this reader.
The prose is lovely,and there are some wonderful philosophical musings contained within this entertaining book.
I really am looking forward to seeing how Sidney's life in the Church and involvement in crime develop over the remaing five books.