I really love when the cover of a book fits it so perfectly, and I’d have to say that James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death does just that. It’s so idyllic and peaceful – blue skies with puffy clouds, green grass, and the beautiful church in the background…but with a dark shadow encroaching.
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is a series of five longer stories, about 100 pages each, set in the late 40s and early 50s. Sidney Chambers is a veteran of the second world war, and often the people he meets assume he did not serve until he quietly corrects them. Sidney is unassuming and introspective, yet he still manages to surprise the town of Grantchester: though he is a priest, he enjoys jazz and has a pint every Thursday with his friend Inspector Keating during which they play backgammon.
Because of his position as clergyman, the town has very particular expectations of him, so when he is approached after a man’s funeral by the man’s mistress, he is taken aback but willing to help. The woman believes her lover has been murdered but does not want to destroy her own reputation or that of her dead lover, so she comes to Sidney because he is in a perfect position to converse with those in the man’s life without coming under question himself. The other investigations come to him in similar ways: Sidney is a priest; therefore, he’s ideal for unbiased judgment and confession. Though at times, he resents this unwanted duty, he also desires to see the truth and help those he can. Along the way, Sidney explores his own psyche and faith as he investigates the various crimes, and with one exception, the crimes are solved relatively quickly and without much additional violence.
The recurring cast of characters includes his sister Jennifer who dates Johnny Johnson, the son of a former cat thief; Inspector Keating who reminds Sidney who the investigator is but still listens and encourages his friend; and Amanda Killen, friend and possible enamorada, as Sidney cares for Amanda but also thinks she wants more than a life as the wife of a priest.
Though this book is obviously part of a series, The Grantchester Mysteries, this is more a pastoral collection of tales with the added element of mystery. Quaint and charming, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is reminiscent of James Herriot. Herriot’s tales, though deemed “animal stories,” illuminate much more than pastoral life in Yorkshire as do the tales James Runcie sets forth in Grantchester, exposing the reader to a way of life that is most certainly foreign but appealing to many of us.
Author Website: James Runcie