Runcie, James - 'Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death'
This remarkable series of stories is about the escapades of the Vicar of Grantchester, Canon Sidney Chambers who had decided to become a priest after serving as an officer in the Second World War with some distinction and being awarded a Military Cross for his bravery under fire. Sidney is a charming thirty-two-year-old bachelor with a reassuringly gentle manner.
It is now October 1953 and Sidney after leading a funeral service in his Grantchester parish, is talking to the deceased's widow when she raises the possibility with him, that her husband may not have committed suicide as was supposed, but was instead murdered. Sidney looks into this with surprising results. A few months later Sidney is invited to celebrate New Year's Eve at a party in London. During the commotion at the stroke of midnight it becomes apparent that there has been a jewel robbery. Sidney applies his new found detective sleuthing skills to attempting to solve this.
Later, with his friend Detective Inspector George Keating he attends a jazz club in Soho where he hopes to see an important American Jazz singer who is over from the USA with her trio. Unfortunately, during what was expected to be a pleasant evening someone is, alas, murdered and Sidney and Inspector Keating are obliged into helping the London police with their specific knowledge. Several months go by without anyone being killed, but then Sidney's girl-friend Amanda disappears suddenly and Sidney at last locates her whereabouts after several nervous days and goes to rescue her from a kidnapper.
So essentially this book is an introduction into the mindset of a very charming, entertaining detective who, like G K Chesterton's 'Father Brown', happens to work as a priest, albeit an Anglican one rather than Catholic. Also very reminiscent of Margery Allingham stories, very English and very entertaining. There are six stories in this novel and some of the characters are in all of them and there are references to the previous crimes so they are not really separate, as such. The character of Sidney is really lovely and his religious and philosophic thoughts are often very thought-provoking and he often quotes poetry at crucial points. Half-way through the book Amanda gives him a present of a Labrador puppy, which he has to take for walks and it upsets his housekeeper's equilibrium as it is not house-trained and is constantly messing up her newly cleaned floors etc.
The very gifted author is the artistic Director of the Bath Literature Festival and has written four other books. He is also an award winning film-maker and of course the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. This book is the first of an anticipated six detective novels spanning thirty years of British history from 1953 to 1981 - featuring the unforgettable vicar and sleuth Sidney Chambers. I enjoyed it tremendously as the author writes with great skill and the plotting and historical research made it very believable and it was a real page turner. I thought it one of the best books that I've read this year. I look forward to reading his next one. Well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England