It’s the late 1960s. The Nigerian civil war is unfolding into the starvation of Biafra. The Beatles continue to reign supreme in popular music. The United States is gearing up for Apollo 13 and the first walk by human beings on the moon.
And Ely Cathedral Archdeacon Sidney Chambers continues to insert himself – or fall into – one mystery after another. The man seems to simultaneously attract crime puzzles or insert himself into them, and sometimes both.
Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation, the new installment of the Grantchester mysteries, was published last month by British author and film producer James Runcie. (Inspiration for these Church of England mysteries likely came from having Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 2000, for a father.) The new series of six stories continues to move Sidney along in time – he’s in his mid-40s and continuing as Archdeacon at Ely, some 20 miles from Cambridge and Grantchester. But he’s still working with Inspector Geordie Keating of the Cambridge Police, still helping his friends, and still wrestling with personal and theological issues.
In the title story, “The Dangers of Temptation,” Sidney is asked to help rescue a young man from a local commune that has elements of a cult. And then the head of the commune is murdered – by beheading. In “Grantchester Meadows,” a May partying rite at Cambridge University (held with English inexplicability in June) results in a student being almost trampled by a heard of cows and a valuable necklace being stolen.
In “The Trouble with Amanda,” Sidney’s one-time love interest and still good friend Amanda Richmond is having marital problems with her husband Henry, who’s having problems of his own with his former wife Connie, whose body is found bound and gagged in a pond. “The Return” focuses on the husband of Mrs. Maguire, Sidney’s former housekeeper in Grantchester, who turns up after being gone for 25 years.
In “A German Summer,” Sidney and his family vacation at a resort in the German Democratic Republic (this is long before the fall the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany), and the resort owner dies in a motorcycle accident, which Sidney suspects is not an accident at all. And in the sixth story, “Love and Duty,” Sidney’s former curate Leonard Graham, now a vicar at St. Alban’s, is being blackmailed.
The stories of Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation are like their predecessors, in that they are often interrelated and form a long-running narrative of faith, family, friendship, and reconciling all of those with the way of the world. Sidney has to navigate some tricky situations, and like the rest of us, isn’t always consistent. But the stories are good ones, for both entertainment and reflection.
Top photograph: Banks of the River Cam near Grantchester, via Wikipedia.