Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie

First Sentence:  Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.
      
Vicar of Grantchester, Sidney Chambers, is a bachelor and battle-scared veteran of WWII.  With his backgammon-and-pint friend, Insp. Geordie Keating, and others, Sidney becomes involved in much more than baptisms and weddings; sometimes mystery is on the agenda.
      
What a wonderful collection of six short stories this is.  Although they are “cozy”, as in no profanity, sex, or overt violence, some of the themes are quite serious. 
      
Because of Sidney’s past in the war, the topic of PTSD, even though not recognized as such then, is addressed, as is racism and prejudice of several kinds.  There is certainly the theme of faith, but rather than blind faith, it is questioning and uncertain.  Sidney questions his vocation, and certainly questions his participation in some of the mysteries with which he becomes involved. 
      
Beside Sidney and Geordie, Ruskin has created very real supporting characters in Mrs. Maguire, the housekeeper, Curate, Leonard Graham, Sidney’s friend, Amanda Kendall, and the dog, “What the Dickens.”  They add dimension, and occasionally conflict, to the stories.
      
There is a delightful thread that runs through the stories of everyone assuming—“I had you down as a sherry man.”  “Most people do…but I’d prefer whisky if that’s possible.”
      
Ruskin‘s wonderful use of language makes this such a treat to read—“I’m not stupid, Canon Chambers.  I know how to keep secrets.  Have you heard of Tupperware?...Nothing gets in; nothing comes out.”  His descriptions are evocative—“Autumn was his favorite time of year, not simply for its changing colours but for the crispness in the air and the sharpness of the light.  And, there are nicely done analogies—“The snow had muffled the once audible cries of the world.  It was like grace, he decided, or the love of God, coming down silently and unexpectedly in the night.”
      
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death:  The Grantchester Mysteries” is a collection of mysteries, but it’s also a study of humanity and faith, rather than religion, in general, as well as the question of at what cost comes pride.

SIDNEY CHAMBERS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH (Trad Mys/Pol Proc-Sidney Chambers/Insp. Geordie Keating-Grantchester, Eng-1953) – G+
      Runcie, James – 1st book of short stories
      Bloomsbury, USA – Apr 2012

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