Canon Sidney Chambers is a joy! Reading about him in this the first of James Runcie's Grantchester Mysteries is to spend hours in the company of a man one would love to know for real, and I am completely smitten.
The story begins in 1953 with Sidney in his early thirties, vicar of Grantchester (just outside Cambridge), tutor at Corpus Christi, lover of jazz, cricket and books. He's an enormously likeable man, calm, compassionate and understanding, self-aware and conscientious, a good listener and a shrewd judge of character.
Sidney is a reluctant detective, his involvement in the investigation of crimes coming about by chance but with the approval of his friend Inspector Geordie Keating - with whom he drinks beer and plays backgammon - for the Inspector knows that Sidney's moral authority can carry weight, and a priest may go where a policeman cannot. But still Sidney worries that he is not doing enough for his parishioners and those he is called to help, and he chides himself for neglecting his real work for the distractions of his unofficial duties.
"As a priest he was expected to be charitable and think the best of people, tolerating their behaviour and forgiving their sins; but as an amateur sleuth he found that the requirements were the exact opposite. Now his task was to be suspicious, to think less of everybody, suspect his or her motives and trust no one. It was not the Christian way."
As with Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe novels, the solving of crimes is neither the hero's raison d'être nor really the main point of the book, it's the prism through which we view the character and his struggle to do the right thing, see him develop and watch him progress - for the series will follow Sidney's career (and I hope his personal life) through to 1981. If you're looking for complex plots and intricate situations you won't find them here, but if you want a gentle, romantic book with a lovely period feel, and at its heart a charming character and a purity of thought that is very appealing, then look out for this novel when it's published in May.