Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation by James Runcie – Review
By Sarah Morgan
I never expected to enjoy Grantchester, the ITV series based on James Runcie’s books. I only tuned in to the first series, broadcast in 2014, to find out what James Norton would be like as a vicar. At the time, the only other production I’d seen him in was Happy Valley, in which he rather convincingly portrayed the evil Tommy Lee Royce. Sidney Chambers, the clergyman at the heart of these stories, couldn’t be more different.
I’ve no idea whether Runcie now writes with Norton in mind (such things have happened that way – Colin Dexter changed Morse to resemble John Thaw after the TV series aired), or if Norton is just brilliant at portraying him. But it was impossible for me not to picture the actor while reading this collection of short stories.
Runcie is, of course, the son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, so he probably knows more than most about an ecclesiastical life, adding a touch of realism to the proceedings.
“Gentle, charming and, at times, utterly compelling”
There is even a moment when Sidney admits he dislikes the sitcom All Gas and Gaiters, which featured a vicar at its heart, and much prefers watching Diana Rigg in The Avengers. A nice touch, and perhaps something that Runcie heard his father comment on 50 years ago. It would be wonderful to discover if that was the case!
His latest batch of tales takes place in the late-1960s, and Sidney has left his Grantchester parish to become an archdeacon. Usually stories taking place in this era are all flower power, hippies and psychedelia. While there is an element of that here, it’s viewed through Sidney’s saintly eyes – and he is very much an onlooker rather than a participant.
What is rather interesting, however, is the appearance of Pink Floyd alumnus Roger Waters in two of the stories. This comes as something of a surprise, although his musical inventiveness remains a mystery as yet unsolved by Sidney or his loved ones!
There are events and character developments that may surprise those who, like me, only know Grantchester via the TV series. But I would urge any potential readers not to be put off by that. I am pleasantly surprised that something so gentle can be so very, very charming and, at times, utterly compelling. I can’t wait to read more.
‘The Grantchester Mysteries: Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation’ by James Runcie, Bloomsbury Publishing, £7.99