Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins
Church Times Bookshop £7.20
I HAD not previously encountered the works of James Runcie. Therefore, being invited to review the third in a successful series of detective novels, which has included ITV drama production, is rather like being invited for the dessert course at a dinner party: you enjoy the good food and the company, but wonder what discussion and interaction between guests you may have missed during previous courses.
Nevertheless, the author brings readers swiftly up to speed with Canon Sidney Chambers, his family, and his eclectic mix of friends. Runcie develops the characters well, and it is easy to feel affinity with a central character who exhibits all the joys and frustrations of life as vicar of the busy fictitious parish of Grantchester, on the outskirts of Cambridge, in the 1960s. Knowing the workload of vicars in similar parishes, I thought it somewhat miraculous that Canon Chambers had the time and energy to use his sleuthing powers to solve a myriad of complex and time-consuming mysteries; but he is obviously successful at both, as ecclesiastical advancement beckons.
The author uses his extensive personal experience of vicarage life to assert the age-old truth that it is very often the immediate family of such over-stretched clergy who receive a raw deal in terms of time and attention. This is a constant theme in the series of six short stories contained within the book.
Runcie is a master of the short story. The storylines are developed quickly and engagingly. The main characters exhibit a warmth and humanity that are both appealing and attractive. In fact, the whole book is bathed in a comfortable and relaxed glow. The stories reveal the best and worst of human nature, without being distressing. The plots are intellectually stimulating, without being taxing. The starter and main course beckon.
The Revd Professor Nicolas Goulding is Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts & the London, Queen Mary University of London.