Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins
by James Runcie, Bloomsbury, £14.99
This book is the fourth in the series of Grantchester Mysteries written by James Runcie, and consists of six lengthy short stories, centred around our clerical sleuth, Canon Sidney Chambers.
The years covered are 1964 to 1966, the time of England’s famous World Cup victory, and, perhaps less well remembered, the terrible flood in Florence, which is the occasion of the final story. The canon is now middle-aged, married to his German wife, Hildegard, and with a daughter, Anna, and a dog called Byron (the previous dog was Dickens). In the course of the volume he is promoted to Archdeacon of Ely and moves from Grantchester to the cathedral city.
The book – and the television series has picked this up – is excellent in capturing the spirit of the times. The author has a superb eye for sartorial detail: “Henry was dressed in a speckled mid-brown three-piece tweed suit with a plum windowpane overlay.” Later we meet a Florentine character wearing “sunglasses, a sleeveless black dress, long gloves and a fur wrap”. The pictures evoked are memorable.
Equally skilful is the handling of plot. One of the stories concerns anonymous letters, which is something of a staple of detective fiction, but even if this has been done before by others, the pages still turn, and the story engrosses. At the same time, Runcie is able to extend our range. A story about child abuse presents a contemporary problem experienced by people of 50 years ago. Another deals with domestic violence, and a third with theft. People then had different approaches to all three, and that we are aware of how we have moved on gives these stories added resonance.
Runcie is catering for all of us who loved Agatha Christie and her contemporaries, without ever slipping into pastiche. He has a memorable and original cast of characters, and in his protagonist a person with whom the reader will bond. There is no reason at all why this series should not run and run, and why Sidney Chambers should not command the same place in the pantheon as Miss Marple or Poirot.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (29/5/15).
Take up our special subscription offer – 12 issues currently available for just £12!
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.