Friday review: Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie

This is the 261st in my series of forgotten or seldom read books

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie, Bloomsbury Publishing 2012 trade paperback, the first volume in the series of The Grantchester Mysteries


I first became aware of this author, book, and series through an article in Mystery Scene magazine, and then borrowed the book from the library.

The Grantchester Mysteries is a series of books by British author James Runcie, set during the 1950s in Grantchester, a village near Cambridge in England. The books feature the clergyman-detective Canon Sidney Chambers.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, is comprised of six short standalone mysteries. This is a short story collection in all but name. The “stories” are just chapters, but each is a separate story. However there is no table of contents showing them and no separate title for each.

The first chapter/story is about a suicide that has a close friend certain it must have been murder. The vicar, Canon Sidney Chambers, decides to poke about and uncovers some interesting discrepancies. The second story involves a missing engagement ring, one that disappeared during a New Years Eve celebration in the home of a popular MP.

I won’t go through all of them, but I think you get the idea. The are gentle, character-driven mysteries with a solution solvable by the man who is able to ask questions and get to the bottom of things. You wouldn’t be far off the mark if you thought of Aird, Allingham or Christie short stories but without the golden age twists in the plot. I was also reminded, in some cases, of the stories of H.R.F. Keating

I enjoyed the book. The character is appealing, I liked the reference to jazz, an important element in one of the stories, and the portrayl of village life. Though it’s a bit lighter than my usual fare, this went quickly and was a nice diversion.

The books were turned in the ITV detective drama Grantchester in the same time and setting  as the books. They feature Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton), who develops a sideline in sleuthing with the help of Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). The first series was based on the six stories from the first book, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. A second series was commissioned in late 2014 and broadcast in March and April 2016 and a third series is airing in 2017.

I’ve seen Season 1 and enjoyed it quite a bit. We’re watching Season 2 now.

The books in the series include:

  1. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (2012)
  2. Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (2013)
  3. Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil (2014)
  4. Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins (2015)
  5. Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation (2016)

A total of six books are planned. The series was inspired by James Runcie’s father, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

note: Some of the foregoing information was found on Wikipedia.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Books & Reading, Mystery, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Friday review: Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death by James Runcie

  1. tracybham says:

    I have been planning to read these stories. It sounds interesting. I want to see the TV series but I would like to read the book first.

  2. Jerry House says:

    I haven’t read any of the books yet but I greatly enjoy the television series and am looking forward to the third season. I understand Runcie is working on a prequel to the series which will cover Sidney chambers’ war years.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    We didn’t like the TV series much and I have no interest in the books. I’ve mentioned before that though I do generally like period mysteries on PBS, I have not enjoyed several set in the ‘fifties, including GRANTCHESTER and the newest FATHER BROWN series. I guess it’s me.

    But we are all entitled to our own tastes and opinions, and it doesn’t take away from anyone else’s enjoyment.

  4. I read the first three or so Sidney Chambers books and found them enjoyable if lightweight. I’ve never watched the series so maybe it’s time I did. For whatever reason I find that most modern day authors fail to catch the ‘rhythm’ of vintage settings – can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the language. I don’t know. But I found that with these books as well as with some other authors recreating life once upon a time. Still, I liked Sidney and his wife and the stories make for good little mysteries.

    • In this book, Sidney has yet to have a wife, as is also true of the first season of the TV series. I have a hard time thinking of the Fifties as “old timey” as that’s when I grew up.

  5. Charles Gramlich says:

    Don’t believe I’ve heard of this author

  6. Sounds good. I’ll track down a copy.

  7. John says:

    I thought the TV series a vast improvement on the books. I couldn’t finish the first book I picked up. Intensely disliked one of the stories I read which was not adapted for TV (so far). The mysteries are slight and in most cases rather obvious. The theological talk and discussions of morality get heavy handed at times. Our library, of course, has them all so I didn’t waste any money of buying the book. But I’m not interested at all in trying Runcie again.

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