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Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death
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Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

3.8 24
by James Runcie

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It is 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II . Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts, and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clerical detective. He can go where the police cannot.

Together with his


It is 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II . Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts, and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clerical detective. He can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend, inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewelry theft at a New Year's Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a jazz promoter's daughter, and a shocking art forgery that puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty, but he nonetheless manages to find time for a keen interest in cricket, warm beer, and hot jazz-as well as a curious fondness for a German widow three years his junior.

With a whiff of Agatha Christie and a touch of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, The Grantchester Mysteries introduces a wonderful new hero into the world of detective fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Runcie (Canvey Island) launches a promising new clerical series with this collection of interlocking short whodunits featuring a latter-day Father Brown, Canon Sidney Chambers. In the first selection, set in 1953, the Anglican minister presides over the funeral of a suicide, Stephen Staunton. When Pamela Morton, whose husband was Staunton’s law partner and who believes Staunton was murdered, seeks Chambers out, Chambers agrees to ask questions informally, despite the skepticism of a friend on the force. His success in resolving Mrs. Morton’s concerns proves to be just the starting point as an amateur sleuth. In subsequent chapters, he investigates a jewel theft, suspicions that a doctor is performing euthanasia, and a strangulation in a jazz club. The last case, “Honourable Men,” is the strongest after the opening mystery, with a sophisticated plot centering on the murder of the actor playing Julius Caesar during a staging of the assassination scene from Shakespeare’s play. That Runcie is the son of former archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie lends biographical interest. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (May)
Library Journal
There is something very appealing about a man of the cloth playing at detective; the convergence of the sacred with the evils of the modern world can make for delightful mystery reading. Novelist Runcie (The Discovery of Chocolate; Canvey Island), who just happens to be the son of the former archbishop of Canterbury, has bestowed upon us a new and delightful clerical detective. Canon Sidney Chambers is a relatively young vicar with a passion for jazz and backgammon who resides in the quintessential English village of Grantchester. This reluctant shamus continually finds himself embroiled in a variety of mysteries from outright murder to a jewel heist. Fortunately, Sidney has a stalwart companion in Insp. Geordie Keating, who also serves as his drinking and backgammon partner. VERDICT This is a strong series debut with an affable amateur detective set against a post-World War II England that is both evocative and informative. A gentle mystery read with strong appeal for devotees of ecclesiastical and English village mysteries.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph P.L., MI
Kirkus Reviews
A cleric celebrates Queen Elizabeth II's coronation year by assisting a detective inspector in solving a series of genteel crimes. Canon Sidney Chambers, the bachelor vicar of Grantchester, has two best friends: Inspector Geordie Keating, who regularly loses to him at backgammon, and posh Amanda Kendall, junior curator at London's National Gallery, who shares a flat with his sister Jennifer. The six longish stories contained herein are threaded together by a seemly cast of villagers, parishioners, sharp-tongued Mrs. Maguire, the vicar's housekeeper and Leonard Graham, the effete assistant curate. In "The Shadow of Death," a congregant's request that Sidney investigate the suicide of her lover introduces him to Hildegard, the deceased man's wife, for a possible romantic entanglement. "A Question of Trust" introduces Sidney to a fancy engagement dinner in London and a missing ruby ring. "First, Do No Harm" returns him to Grantchester, where a pregnancy and a mercy killing precede a marriage. In "A Matter of Time," Sidney's love for jazz leads him to a Soho cafe that offers scat, drugs and strangulation. A portrait of Anne Boleyn disappears in "The Lost Holbein," and Amanda is kidnapped as she pursues it. And Lord Teversham, of Locket Hall, is murdered during a performance of Julius Caesar by one of the Roman assassins on stage in "Honourable Men." Only a churl could resist Sidney, whose musings on love, evil and morality, penchant for quoting snippets of poetry, preference for whiskey over the endless cups of tea he is offered, and ratiocinative success at unraveling crimes make him endearing.
Marilyn Stasio
…the coziest of cozy murder mysteries…Taken individually, each of these clerical whodunits poses a clever puzzle for armchair detectives. Viewed as a collective study of British life as it was lived when Elizabeth II first ascended the throne, these stories present a consistently charming and occasionally cutting commentary on "a postwar landscape full of industry, promise and concrete."
—The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Grantchester Mysteries Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.08(h) x 1.01(d)

Meet the Author

James Runcie is the son of the former archbishop of Canterbury, the director of the Bath Literature Festival, and the author of four novels: The Discovery of Chocolate, The Colour of Heaven, Canvey Island, and East Fortune. He is also an award-winning filmmaker and theater director and has scripted several films for BBC. He directed a documentary following a year in the life of J. K. Rowling. Runcie lives in Edinburgh with his wife and two daughters.

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Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
librarianDS More than 1 year ago
This charming cozy detective book features an appealing Anglican priest as the sleuth with characters of all ilk, reminiscent of Agatha Christie. It is a welcome departure from the current thrillers full of blood, gore and, often, brutality. The 6 entries are classic puzzlers, similar to many of the '20's and '30's golden age books. Except for Ellery Queen and the American-born John Carter Dickson, the majority of these were British with a smattering of Australian. Set in the early and mid '50's, these stories echo that gentler era.
greentriptaker More than 1 year ago
Sidney Chambers is unassuming and expresses values of traditional Anglicanism, and yet is insightful in solving challenging situations. Not all his challenges are murders, but still there is still a puzzle to solve and personalities to explore. I like that I can read one a night and have more to look forward to the next evening. I look for more by James Runcie and Sidney walks through the chapel of King's college, Cambridge or the streets and nightclubs of London.
druidgirl More than 1 year ago
Canon Sidney Chambers always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It seems he is always at a place where a murder has been committed. Inspector Keating is always asking Sidney for help in each case. Sidney has lots of help from his sister Jennifer, his curate Leonard, his friend Amanda, and various other people help him at different times. Sidney solves crimes, all the while questioning his life choices and his lack of a romantic tie. This was a thoroughly enjoyable book. I would love to read more by this author. Thank you to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for allowing me to read and review this wonderful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the reasons I read this was a suggested blog post. The other is I'm a pastor and mysteries with a touch of theology are intriguing to me. This is a sweet book. Canon Sidney Chambers over the scope of a year is sucked into 5 separate mysterious situations, falls for 2 women, and runs his small church despite meddling parishoners, an irrasible housekeeper and other intriquing people. In fact, Runcie's descriptive sense is why when the next Canon Chambers book hits stateside, I will look for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Set in the '50s in post-war England, Sidney has his hands full with his parish duties & murders that he is drawn to solve. He helps, or is helped by his friend Inspector Keating. We get to know Sidney, Keating & Amanda, Sidney's sister's roommate, whose wealth & social class is different than Sidney's more ordinary background & earnings as a clergyman. I liked that during Sidney's amateur investigations, there are conversations & ideas that are worth reflecting on & apply to the real world, not just to the story. I definitely want to read more stories of Sidney's sleuthing & if any of his female friends turn into romantic interests...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And solves mysteries my favorite kind as many english writers getting too grafic nice variety of stories and interconnected have read second from library and hope to get third out in July Pagecounter@sparta.fsfl
Bookwyrm61 6 months ago
This was a searial read on Nook. I liked this book, it had plenty of twists and turns as well as surprises. I will read more by this author.
Mammu 6 months ago
I read this book during B&N Readouts monthly serial read. I was a little disappointed in this book because the pacing was too slow, had very few twists, turns, & none of the details I'm used to with my other regular reading. After finishing that day's installment on Readouts, I didn't feel the urge or impatience to read the next chapter; that's how slow it was for me. That being said, it is a perfect book for the monthly serial read because you won't lose any sweat or sleep if you put the book down, especially since the are 5 standalone mysteries in this book. So you can finish one mystery at a time, put the book down, & get back to it when you want to. Four of the mysteries in this book made it to the first season of Grantchester on BBC TV, with several significant changes or deviations from the originals in the book. The TV show was enjoyable, & if you love cozy mysteries, you'd love this book, too.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed the Grantchester Mysteries on PBS, and the actual novel expounds on the series. The first book contains short stories on the different adventures that Canon Sidney Chambers encounters in his quest of serving God. My biggest beef with James Runcie becomes the omission of a table of contents at the beginning of the book. The stories introduce Sidney's meeting with each of the supporting characters such as Leonard, Amanda, Dickens, Mrs. Maguire, and Geordie. Each character plays a role in the life of Sidney in his quest of serving God and helping people to find God's love and understanding. The emphasis of each story gently reminds the reader of the good and bad emotions that push an individual into crime and murder. Friendship enters into every story as the rock that holds Sidney on his journey. I look forward to reading more of this series.
nhr3bookcrazyNR More than 1 year ago
I decided to read the books - in addition to having already watched the PBS Mystery series. I quite enjoyed the book!!!
Rosemary-Standeven More than 1 year ago
I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review I was surprised by how much I loved this book and its main character, Canon Sidney Chambers. The book comprises six short shortish mysteries that are thrust upon the reluctant amateur detective and full-time vicar, Sidney. Because of the book structure, you can parcel out the mysteries, and read one a day, in between other books, life etc. I tried doing this, but kept wondering what Sidney was up to now, and had to return to the book again and again. Sidney is such a fantastic and realistic character – warm, forgiving, tolerant and always willing to take time to help his friends and parishioners. But he also has his flaws – impatience, poor time management – and suffers from loneliness, and doubts about his adequacy as a parish priest. His faith is important to him, but does not overpower the book. As he is Anglican rather than Catholic, there is always the potential for romance and marriage, and his approach to women is quite sweet and hesitant. Every woman should have a male friend like Sidney, but at the same time you do want him to find his true love – someone who could be also be a good vicar’s wife (no easy task). The mysteries are varied, in seriousness and in where they take place: jazz club, theatre, doctor’s surgery, stately home .... Not all involve murder, or even an actual crime. They are, in the main, gentle – like Sidney – and would be welcome reading for people of all ages and sensitivities. Only the “Lost Holbein” chapter, with the disturbed Mr Phillips, had activity that might not be for the maiden aunt readers. But there is no gore or the psychopathic outrages that are so prevalent in modern crime novels. I am now really looking forward to reading more of Sidney’s adventures.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not very well-written; lots of sudden, confusing scene changes with no transition. Main character is likeable, but no real explanation is given for why people keep asking him to solve crimes. His main characteristic is that he's a nice guy. Conversely, almost every other minor or major character is a jerk, especially the main female romantic interest. She has no redeeming qualities, other than being good at art. She's so inconsiderate and entitled that (spoiler alert) I'm relieved that he apparently doesn't marry her (as I gleaned from the synopsis of later stories in this series).
NewsieQ More than 1 year ago
It is Britain, 1953. Sidney is an Anglican priest, World War II combat vet, unmarried, in his early 30s. In this series of related stories, he and his backgammon playing buddy Inspector Geordie Keating team up to solve a series of mysteries, not all involving murder. I passed on watching the PBS series Grantchester, which feature Sidney and the inspector, but decided to read the books instead. After finishing this book, I’m watching the series on DVD and really enjoying them. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is just terrific. Sidney is a wonderful character and the secondary characters are marvelous, including Keating and especially the vicar’s vinegary housekeeper. Although short stories are not usually my cup of tea, the stories together read much like a novel. And I like the writing … polished and witty. The plotting is smooth, the stories at least plausible if not totally believable. I look forward to reading and viewing more of Sidney.
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dnaps815 More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Omg what did you do to her and how fid you put her to sleep like that?