Bookworm1858's Reviews > Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie
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Mar 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: read-2012, historical-fiction, netgalley, mystery

I like finding new detectives in mystery stories and the setting for this one, early 1950s, sounded pleasingly different. Our detective, as you might have surmised from the title, is Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester, the quiet English village. Through the short stories in this collection, Sidney is induced to become involved in investigating several mysterious crimes. He is friendly with an inspector and his position in the church lends some authority to his actions while rendering his investigations relatively unobtrusive to the wrongdoer.

Despite the nature of the crimes (the violence of several murders and two thieveries), this is a very quiet book. This is perfect for those of us who like cozies, who don't necessarily want violence in their reading material but may not work for people who want suspense. I'll admit that there were times when it seemed too slow but I enjoyed the leisurely pace. It seems fitting for the time and place, where rationing is only finally starting to end, where televisions have yet to grace practically every household. We also get insight into Sidney's spiritual and personal life, from the way he feels about his preaching to potential wife material.

The quality of the stories varies. I really liked the story of the missing engagement ring while I found the one about the missing portrait to be quite sickening and much darker than the other stories. Although each mystery provides the framing and ostensible purpose for the story, it does not always come across as the most important element. Sidney's romantic connections and his life in the church sometimes overshadow his investigations, drawing my attention and sympathy. While each short story is self-contained, it is good to read all of them because the characters drift through, sometimes in London, sometimes in Cambridge. What we learn in the previous story provides additional color to the next.

Overall: Slower than what I had expected but not without its charms. Sidney is a fascinating character and I would definitely be interested to spend more time with him.
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