Book Review – Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night

  • 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.

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Book Review – Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

  • Title: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death
  • Author: James Runcie
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/31/2015

My Dad actually introduced me to the Canon Sidney Chambers mystery series. He read a review in one of the magazines or newspapers he subscribes to of the British television series which ran in the US on PBS. Before long I was recording the PBS series, Grantchester, on my DVR and I ended-up watching it with my parents – and believe me, that never happens.

Then I bought all three Sidney Chambers novels for my Dad for his birthday – but once he finished reading them, I immediately borrowed them back to read.

I just finished the first book, and it really is excellent.

Canon Sidney Chambers is an Anglican priest in the small village of Grantchester, just outside Cambridge, England, in the early 1950s. The novel is six interlinked short stories. In the first one, Sidney becomes an unwilling detective. There is a murder in his parish, and Sidney’s best friend, police inspector, Geordie Keating, talks him into investigating, telling him, “People will tell you things they won’t tell me.” (paraphrase) Sidney, turns out to be a good detective, and becomes involved in five more cases. They aren’t always murders – one story involves a stolen engagement ring – another a stolen painting. And Sidney is conflicted – as a priest, he feels he should see the best in people. But as a detective he must see the worst, as his close friend, Geordie, reminds him.

Sidney is also romantically conflicted, though not so much as he is in the television series, Grantchester, he meets a German woman who had followed her husband back to Grantchester, but finds herself widowed. The murder of her husband is Sidney’s first case. Yet, when everyone in his sleepy English village distrusts the German woman, Sidney is quite taken with her.

Sidney’s other romantic interest is Amanda, his sister’s friend. Introduced in the second story, Amanda and Sidney become friends and even work on cases together. But she is rich and privledged – and he’s a poor clergyman. Both think remaining friends is better than getting married.

It’s a traditional English Cozy setting: sleepy English village, amateur detective who’s fallen into being a detective – then happens to be there when crimes occur, a cast of lovable off-beat characters surrounding our main character, and there’s even a dog, named Dickens. But as much as Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death checks every box marked “traditional English Cozy mystery”, it somehow rises above it’s component parts. The publication date is 2012, so it brings somewhat modern attitudes to an historical era – the prejudice, un-equal social status, and repression of the 1950s are subtly condemned for what they are, through Sidney’s eyes – as he’s a modern character, with modern ideas. I breezed through this novel quickly, and enjoyed it very much.

For those having doubts about a mystery series where the main character is an Anglican priest, really, give these a try. I found them to not be “preachy”. Yes, the subject of religion comes up – but more because it is part of Sidney’s job than anything else, and Sidney never seems to be up to date on writing his sermons.

The novel, and the television series, are highly recommended.

Follow this link to read my Grantchester Series 1 review.

Grantchester series 2 and 3 are also available on DVD.

Book Review – The Invisible Man (Audio)

  • Title: The Invisible Man
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: H.G. Wells (original novel)
  • Adapted by: Jonathan Barnes
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Griffin (the Invisible Man), Dr. Kemp, Teddy Henfrey, Mrs. Hall, Thomas Marvel
  • Cast: John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Dan Starkey, Annette Badland, Peter Noble

Spoilers

Big Finish’s audio play adaptation of HG Wells’ classic The Invisible Man is a full audio play and not simply a single person reading the book, or even a two-hander adaptation. The play has a full cast, music, and special effects. The CD version even includes audio-only tracks and interviews as extras.

The story is framed by on the first disc, Kemp interviewing Thomas Marvel to learn the story of the Invisible Man, though it soon picks-up with Griffin turning up, out of the snow, at an Inn, and paying lots of money to not be disturbed. At first, the innkeeper, Mrs. Hall, is glad of the money and willing to leave the man alone as he requests. But eventually, she becomes suspicious, especially the way Griffin treats her maid, waitress, and cleaning girl. When the money runs out, Griffin quickly gives her more – but Mrs. Hall remarks that the amount he gives her was the exact amount taken from a local vicarage in a recent robbery. Being suspicious already, she calls in the police. They, however, are unable to catch the Invisible Man, and he escapes.

Griffin encounters a drunken tramp on the road, and talks/bribes/threatens him to become his partner. This is Thomas Marvel, who is able to fill in Kemp on his own direct experiences. However, although he at first benefits from the partnership, eventually Marvel learns to fear Griffin (with good reason) and even turns himself over to the police for a series of robberies and thefts since he believes he will be safer in jail.

Griffin talks Marvel into returning to the Inn so he can claim his books and clothes. The books are especially important as they apparently contain the secret to permanent invisibility but are written in code. Marvel makes off with the books, and they both fail to get Griffin’s clothes – though Griffin does escape.

Once he escapes, Griffin shows up at the house of Dr. Kemp. Kemp slips a letter to his maid but tells her to wait three hours before delivering it by hand to Colonel Adye at the local army base. Kemp interviews Griffin, who tells his story in his own words, from his fascination with light, to his career as a student, then a professor, who studies light. Though Griffin doesn’t reveal his formula, he does reveal his general process and theories.

The army colonel arrives, but yet again they are unable to catch Griffin. Kemp suggests they put glass on the roads, order that all doors be locked, lock-up all food, and monitor all exits from the city by road, ship, and rail. Although the Invisible Man eludes capture for awhile, after he kills a man, the Invisible Man is eventually captured, attacked, and beaten by a mob. It is Kemp who prevents the mob from killing him. He is captured and dies in jail.

However, Kemp, who is interviewing Marvel, demands from him the Red Books that contain the Invisible Man’s secrets. Griffin had said that he and Kemp were the same, and although at first Kemp seems stable and sane and even happy with his life – in the end, Kemp also becomes obsessed with light and concealment.

I have actually read HG Wells classic The Invisible Man although it was years ago. I remember it as being more political – more about isolation and being marginalized than the mere terror of someone becoming invisible. Yet this adaptation is still excellent. Hurt plays Griffin with a whispering menace, and it quickly becomes clear why everyone fears him – he’s a scary dude, invisibility or no. Many of the other characters in this tale are also lower class (Marvel, Teddy, Mrs. Hall, the two servant girls and even the female university student) who ultimately place survival above helping Griffin. Still, it is a good story, told in a creepy way. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click here to order The Invisible Man on Download or CD.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!