James Runcie, the son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie has written a delightful series of readable and thought-provoking moral fables recently adapted for television and entitled The Grantchester Mysteries.
Set between 1953 and the mid 1970’s the stories follow the twists and turns in the life of 32-year-old Canon Sidney Chambers, a charming, kindly and restless hero as he navigates the choppy waters of parish ministry and crime solving. ‘Bicycling from Grantchester to Cambridge and back, [he attempts] to love the unloveable, forgive the sinner, and to lead a decent good life.’
His friend Inspector Geordie Keating provides a curious contrast to our unlikely sleuth, each character drawing out of his friend what would otherwise lie latent. Without Sidney, Geordie’s stubbornness would blind him to subtly hidden clues and without Geordie, Sidney would be just any other lonely country vicar, with a penchant for whisky – ‘his favourite tipple; a drink, he tried to convince himself, that he only kept for medicinal purposes’.
Sidney is humorously henpecked by his well-meaning but interfering housekeeper, Mrs Maguire. She dislikes his enthusiasm for jazz as well as his dog Dickens, a present from his friend Amanda Kendall, a glamorous art curator and hopelessly out of Sidney’s league.
In an age where the church is seen as insignificant or even dangerous, James Runcie gently and cleverly reintroduces the topic of faith by taking us back to what, for many, is a bygone era. We can consider Christianity from the safe vantage point of the present. He makes his main character a very loveable and imperfect creature with whom we can readily identify, rather than a fearsome judge. Conversing with other woman in his life, the widowed Hildegard Staunton, he mourns that ‘if [he] had been a better Christian…he would try to talk to Hildegard about the consolation of his faith, but he knew it was not the right time.’ Is this not a regret many feel?
With God back on the agenda, Runcie then courageously deals with the sensitive topics of loyalty, forgiveness, truth and homosexuality providing a social and religious commentary on changes in attitudes over the last 50 years.
Four novels have been published to date entitled: Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death, Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night, Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil and Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins.
A second series of these Grantchester dilemmas will be filmed from July to September 2015. Personally, I can’t wait!