Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love by James Runcie – The Grantchester Mysteries

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This is number six in a long running series concerning the Reverend Sidney Chambers, ex Vicar of Grantchester, current Archdeacon in Ely. These are the books on which the television series “Grantchester” is loosely based; the television programmes have stayed in the 1950s whereas this book opens 1971. Sidney is a priest in this book, married to Hildegard, father to Anna, full time clergy in the Cathedral, part time detective with Geordie on seemingly a semi – official basis. This is not the tortured, tempestuous story as the television would have it; this Sidney Chambers is given to much introspective musing on his life, the universe and everything. This is the sixth volume I have read in the series, but I am sorry to say I did not enjoy it more than the others. I believe it is because it tries to do so much; mystery setting up and solving, social history, and a picture of working clergy. I realise that I have read them so they do attract me on some level, but they are, sadly quite boring and sanctimonious.

In this book a body is found as is fairly predictable in Chambers’ daily round. Clergy are still summoned to the dying, but generally they are not so prone to finding the murdered or tragically dead in East Anglia. Before the mystery is solved (more by accident than design) the reader is presented with views on alternative lifestyles.  There is a confusing section on a painting which seems to serve only as an examination of Amanda being ill fated (this is not the human Amanda that appeared on our screens, but a strange creature of contradictions) and a genuine mystery involving a missing book, heavily disguised a by just too much information of seemingly arcane nature about the enthronement of Archbishops. While I respect the amount of research that goes into these books, as well as the experience of growing up in a Vicarage / bishop’s palace, I just feel that Runcie tries a bit too hard, and the book is just a bit overwritten. There are sections where we do see Chambers as a man, in confusion and grief, and I think that this is the book’s strength, rather than trying to depict him as an amateur detective. The story of a clergyman in the second half of the twentieth century is interesting enough, without the feats of detection thrown in for dramatic purposes.

This is not a negative review in that there is much to interest in this book; I just feel that Runcie tries to write too many mysteries in a book which distracts from a genuinely good novel about people.

Yes, being married to Northernvicar does give me an insight into clergy households! This is why I find these books disappointing; I so much wanted to like them! Still, plenty of festive reading about, so must try to finish another entire book…

Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation – James Runcie

The Yearly review of the latest Granchester Mysteries hereby commences, and once again I am glad to say that I was able to borrow this book rather than spent a lot of money on the hardback. This time Derby libraries came up with the goods, and I did not even have to order it….

Once again, this is the story of a priest in Cambridgeshire who spends a large amount of his waking hours solving mysteries, getting dragged into people’s lives in a way that no priest would in real life….He is now in Ely, which makes for less than likely situations in which he gets drawn into in Cambridge.  The highlight of this book for me is the student party held on the banks of the Cam during Mayweek: but once again there is barely a crime and what nefarious activity there is peters out on the last page of the chapter. Not so much mysteries as mildly interesting events occur in this book. James Runcie may be a prolific writer, but he is no Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle. Either there is a crime which is obviously not going to be solved, or the perpetrator wanders off unpunished. Even in the case of the undeniable murder, the murderer is so obvious that I lost interest.

The worst chapter is set in East Germany. I became so confused about who was supposed to be who, who dies and what anyone does about it. There is jealousy and politics; at least I think there was, but I lost interest.This book is not about the temptations or trials of being a priest in the middle of the twentieth century. It just goes into long bits about Sidney muttering to himself about whether he loves his wife or whether he is still in love with Amanda….If you want something a little nearer, Rebecca Shaw in her romantic sagas involving the perfect Peter the priest are at least more fun.

In other words, I thing that this is definitely a case of where the tv series is better than the novels.Better characters, better settings, and some real mysteries. Borrow this book if you can, but I would suggest there are better books to read out there.