Where Spring (and Murder) are in Session

March 23, 2016
According the calendar, it’s Springtime at last, although my thermometer begs to differ.  Well, I don’t depend on the weather to foretell the seasons.  I have television for that, or at least I used to.  Once upon a time I reckoned summer by the return of Mad Men  and knew fall was coming when Sleepy Hollow reappeared.  I could count on spending the coldest weeks of winter with the Crawley family at Downton Abbey but they and Don Draper have shut up shop.  At least Grantchester returns with the Easter weekend.  Since this begins the second season, (and, as a rule, the books are better than adaptations) it’s seems only right to have a look at the source material.
The Television Adaptation
Grantchester is based on a series of mysteries by James Runcie, all of whom center around a delightfully unpredictable vicar of the 1950’s named Sidney Chambers.  On the one hand, Sidney is exactly what Central Casting taught Americans to expect of a British clergyman.  He’s kind, well-mannered, thoughtful (if a bit obtuse when it comes to attractive females) genuinely concerned about God and anxious to help his burdened parishioners with the difficulties in their lives.  On the other hand, he’s far more modern than 1950’s England seems to expect.  Here is a Canon who chooses Scotch over Sherry (one reason I liked him immediately), is fairly athletic and he adores American Jazz.  If that’s not enough, Sidney doesn’t socialize with the Bishop or even the members of the faith. His best pal is the local police detective, Geordie Keating, although even they don’t seem to have much in common.  Keating is the traditional family man and Englishman, who attends church only for family functions.  Sidney is single, modern and spiritual. These polar opposites make a great team in solving crime.
The Original
Each volume of stories has a Character/Phrase title (similar to the Harry Potter series) and contains several mini-mysteries between the covers. The first in the series, (Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death) set the scene and period as well as create a wonderful set of supporting figures: Sidney’s redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire, his Dostoyevsky loving curate, Leonard and the two women able to turn Sidney’s head: Hildegard and Amanda. In Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night, Sidney and his returning cast get the chance to solve a half dozen murders in and around Cambridge while they look at the changing face of England.  Memories of The Cambridge Five (a group of college graduates that were recruited as Soviet Agents) haunt the backdrop of the first and last tales, a conflicted romance between an Indian emigre and a British Miss reflect the wave of immigration England faced at the time and even the USA/USSR Space Race becomes part of the tale, “The Uncertainty Principle”. Through these and the closing of the Berlin Wall, Sidney Chambers follows the measured pace of a man who hopes for the best from people but accepts the inevitability of our failures. Sidney sees everyone is a work in progress, and himself as the chap who needs the most help.
If you miss the world of Inspector Morse or want a place like Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead, or if you just want to imagine England in Spring, give these stories of James Runcie the eye.  They’re just the thing for the Season.

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