- Title: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night
- Author: James Runcie
- Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/07/2015
Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night is the second Grantchester mystery featuring the amateur detective and full-time parish priest, Sidney Chambers. It’s a typical British cozy, set in the small English village of Grantchester near Cambridge, in England. The time is the mid-1950s and early 1960s.
The novel is actually six related short stories. The first and third stories are set at Cambridge where Sidney, as a fellow of Corpus Christi College acts as intermediary between the University (which seems to police itself under the Master) and the police (who cannot investigate a crime at the university unless invited – even murder). The first story doesn’t even seem to be resolved, as it points to the British Security Services and a possible double agent (as well as campus recruiting) and everyone pretty much says, “drop it”, and a mysterious fatal accident is determined to be an “accident”.
The third story, also at Cambridge, is a locked-room story, but that accident is proven to be murder and the guilty party is arrested.
The second story is a rather bizarre tale of arson. I liked how Sidney figured it out – but it just seemed very weird.
The fourth story is the obligatory Cricket story. The first half is detailed, full of cricketing slang, and if you don’t understand cricket – very hard to follow. However, the murder and reasons for the murder (and again, it’s a murder at first disguised as natural causes) openly discuss 1950s racist British attitudes, as well as the younger generation’s ignoring of those attitudes. It’s a good story, with the excellent moral that hating people who are different from you is bad. Which should be obvious, but especially these days it doesn’t seem to be at all.
The fifth story has Amanda finally deciding to marry – and making a very bad choice. I’m not going to spoil the details, though. The story gets into the thorny problem of seeing a friend of the opposite sex making a life decision that one is convinced is bad for them and how the characters deal with it. In other words, Sidney, who is great friends with Amanda, is convinced from the start that her new fiancé, well, that there is something wrong. When Sidney brings up his fears – of course Amanda thinks he’s simply jealous. But the story is more complicated than that and has some important consequences.
In the last story, Sidney, goes to Germany to meet his on-again/off-again/-on-again girlfriend, Hildegard. Remember, that as an Anglican priest – he can marry and is somewhat expected to marry. Unfortunately, when he arrives in West Berlin, she’s gone to East Berlin to see her mother whom she was told had a stroke. Sidney, being Sidney, cannot have the good fortune to get into East Berlin without incident – and once that’s cleared up, he and Hildegard make the mistake of staying in East Berlin for a few days. As they attempt to leave, the Berlin Wall goes up and they have to sneak out. It’s an exciting story that balances history, their personal relationship, and a certain amount of “What are you doing?” reaction from the reader.
Overall, another excellent mystery short story collection in the English cozy style. There’s less of Inspector Keating in this particular book, but I still enjoyed it. Recommended.