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February 2019



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Sidney Chambers and the Pleasures of reading Detective Fiction


I’ve had a lovely time reading all three Sidney Chambers novels one after the other. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death I re-read after watching the first episode of Grantchester, the TV series based on the book. I wanted more and the Kindle was my friend: isn’t it the ultimate in modern instant gratification that the desire to obtain a book can be satisfied within a minute?

Each book consists of several short stories, progressing through real time. Thus the first book begins just after the Coronation in 1953 and by the third we’ve reached 1963 and The Beatles. The stories are not the greatest puzzles in crime fiction; the pleasure of them lies in the character of Canon Chambers and the discussions of morality which permeate the books. Sidney tries to be a good priest and worries that his detective activities take him away from his calling. At the same time he can’t resist the excitement of each case as it arrives and sees it also as a seeking after truth. His friend Geordie, or Chief Inspector Keating, calls on him for help because his instincts are so often right and because people will reveal things to him that they wouldn’t to the police. His superiors in the Church are less keen on his involvement; they see his criminal investigations as damaging the prospects of preferment which should be the due of such a clever chap.

Is there any subject James Runcie can’t write about? His characters discuss theology, philosophy, music, art and physics. They quote poetry. In the Perils of the Night there’s an excellent account of a cricket match. I thought Lord Peter had my heart forever, but it would be easy to fall for Sidney Chambers. People do. It was rather naughty of the author, in the Problem of Evil to give away the plot of The Nine Tailors. Apart from that my only criticism of the books is that they’re too short.



If you like cosy English detective stories, these are the goods.
I haven't read the books yet but I am very much enjoying Grantchester on the telly :)
I'll be watching the second episode this evening!


I love every word you wrote. I haven't been so happy with a mystery series in a long, long time. Really lovely. And I get to watch the series via Tunnelbear, the Anglophile's dream.
So glad you enjoy the books as much as I do.

I'm disappointed that the TV series 'based on' the books changes the stories so much. It's still very watchable, but ... It also annoys me that Sidney is always referred to as Mr Chambers instead of Canon. I suppose they think no one these days knows what a canon is. TV producers talking down to us, as usual.