Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death – James Runcie

“Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.”

An unconventional young vicar finds a bit of excitement in an otherwise quiet life by investigating crimes with his police detective best mate. His dog collar gives him a great way to poke about where the police might not be welcome, and generally gets people to open up to him. Set in 1950s Cambridgeshire (Grantchester is an actual village not far from the university city), the prospect of a cosy (urm, I was a bit wrong!) period mystery and if I’m honest a dishy leading man somehow got me watching the TV adaptation rather compulsively. When I ran out of episodes, I turned to the original books.

The first story, The Shadow of Death, is familiar as the opening episode of the TV adaptation – very familiar, in fact, as a pretty straight transfer. The next three are also familiar, but have been given far more drama for the screen, and so can feel a little odd reading them after viewing. And of the last two, I wasn’t entirely surprised the scriptwriters decided to skip them, not least because of the odd tone of the sexualised kidnapping, quite out of place with the rest of this book.

If I’m being even more honest, without the eye-candy of both leading actors and rather lovely period setting (yes, I’d love to cycle down empty country roads with a pet labrador!), the books aren’t quite so appealing. This book is definitely more on the cosy side (apart from a few moments, as above), but also lacks some degree of the drama. The romantic story is also completely changed, and without that there does feel to be something a bit flatter in the writing – Sidney-in-text is so much less driven, more realistic, and a tad less interesting.

I also found the writing style, particularly the dialogue, to be a bit stilted. Perhaps it’s a ‘period’ thing, but the lack of contractions (so, all “I am” not “I’m”, “I do not”, etc etc) feels quite stiff. The extra time spent in a vicar’s head is also less than fascinating, tbh!

I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the second volume – this wasn’t bad at all, but as I say, it turns out the character’s biggest appeal is probably the amount of time he spends (on screen) taking his shirt off 😉

Kindle: 400 pages / 6 stories
First published: 2012
Series: Grantchester Mysteries book 1 of 6
Read from 30th April – 21st June 2017

My rating: 6/10

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