I finished reading the sixth Sidney Chambers book last night and it broke me. Absolutely broke me. In a youth hostel dorm. Crying in a corner with a pile of used tissues*. I’ve mentioned this series in passing before (like last summer’s reading suggestions) but never done a proper post about them. James Runcie has said that this is the last book in the series, and while there is (apparently) a prequel on the way, now seems like a good time to talk about Grantchester’s crime solving vicar.
The first thing to say is that you may well be familiar with the TV series based on the books – Grantchester. The books cover a much longer period of time than the show has and has diverged from the plots of the books somewhat. I loved the first series, but trailed off in the second series as it moved further and further away from the books and I have the third sitting on the TiVo box waiting to be watched. Personally, although James Norton has a strong appeal to me, I prefer the books.
Here are the basics in case you’ve missed out on Sidney altogether: at the start of the series, he’s a 32-year-old bachelor in charge of the parish of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, who gets tangled up in a mysterious death. Sidney becomes friends with the detective investigating and soon Geordie is calling him in on other cases. And this is the pattern for the books, which are based around a series of shorter mysteries (not all of which are murders) rather than one big one – which works really well for the series. There’s a cast of supporting characters that evolves as the series goes on – initially his housekeeper Mrs Maguire, but also including curates, friends and love interests.
Author James Runcie is the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and the books are packed with details about ecclesiastical and vicarage life in the period which really lifts the series beyond your normal historical cozy crime novel. I love Sidney as a character – his difficulties in concentrating on being a vicar and not getting involved in crimes and the difficulties and challenges of life as a vicar. I’ve really enjoyed the series – and although I want more, the final story of the sixth book is probably the most beautifully written and resonant that there has been in the whole series, so it’s a good note to go out on if this is it.
I’d suggest you start the series at the beginning – you should be able to find them in all good bookshops – or you could order from the Big Green Bookshop and support an indie bookshop. The Kindle edition of the first book was £1.89 at time of writing and 31.99 on Kobo.
*NB the fact that I have a cold may have contributed to the snot bomb this book caused.