Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is the first installment of James Runcie‘s Grantchester Mysteries series, featuring the title character as a vicar/detective who finds himself in the middle of some intriguing cases. Ranging from petty theft to murder, the crimes Sidney Chambers helps detective Geordie Keating investigate often put him at odds with his religious obligations, but that notwithstanding, Sidney makes an excellent sleuth.
The first book in the Sidney Chambers series was published in 2012. Since then, Runcie has added two more works to the series including Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night and Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil. The books are organized so that each work contains several short mysteries that Sidney and Geordie must solve. In The Shadow of Death, the cases include the supposed suicide of a local lawyer, a stolen engagement ring at a New Year’s party, a missing priceless painting, and the murder of a local lord.
My favorite of the cases from The Shadow of Death is titled “Honorable Men,” which features the murder of Lord Tavisham. In this installment, the local community theater stages a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with Lord Tavisham as the title character. Feeling it is his civic duty to be in the play, Sidney has a minor role and is on hand opening night when Lord Tavisham becomes the victim of an all-too-real reenactment of Caesar’s brutal slaying. Because Sidney is on the spot when the murder occurs, detective Geordie Keating enlists Sidney’s help in solving the crime.
I listened to Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death as an Audible book. Narrating the work is the fabulous Peter Wickham. The Audible version of the book comes in at 11 hours and 22 minutes, but Wickham is an engaging reader throughout. Wickham also narrates the other two Grantchester Mysteries books, so I feel sure that I will listen to them on Audible also because of Wickham’s excellent performance.
I stumbled upon the Grantchester Mysteries through the PBS television series Grantchester. With the handsome James Norton starring as Sidney Chambers and the clever Robson Green as Geordie Keating, Grantchester has quickly become one of my Sunday night favorites. The first season of Grantchester wrapped up last night (Feb. 22), and while it stayed true in many ways to Runcie’s first book, differences are numerous and quite noticeable. Mainly, the television version of Sidney Chambers is much more flawed than the book version, but still, the show is enjoyable, and I believe it will be around for quite some time.
If I have one complaint about Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, it is that the idea of a vicar working as a part-time detective is becoming a little too popular with writers at this time. I had not long finished G.M. Malliet’s Wicked Autumn when I stumbled upon the Grantchester series. Malliet released her first Max Tudor book in 2011; Tudor is also a vicar turned sleuth. Both series are well written and enjoyable, but there is such a thing as too much of the good stuff.
Overall, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is a great read. Its light-heartedness and lack of gruesome details make it easy to enjoy for those who like their mysteries to provoke more thought than to show gore.