I just finished watching the second season of the Grantchester Mysteries on PBS, based on the books by James Runcie. I’ve enjoyed the series, but the television program has diverged markedly from the books.
I like the books better, for two reasons. The television program adds plot lines that don’t exist in the books (Amanda Kendall, Sidney Chambers’ original love interest, doesn’t get married until the fourth book in Runcie’s series, for example. There are other significant differences, too.) And second, the books allow for Sidney’s ruminations on spiritual concerns, which the television program includes in truncated form at best.
In the fourth collection, Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins, Sidney finds himself promoted. Instead of being the vicar at Grantchester, a close suburb of Cambridge, Sidney becomes the archdeacon at Ely Cathedral, 20 miles from Cambridge but still close enough to get involved in several of his friend Inspector Geordie Keating’s cases. The time period is roughly 1964.
In the title story, “The Forgiveness of Sins,” a musician claims sanctuary in Sidney’s church in Grantchester, saying he has found his wife stabbed to death in their hotel bed. When the police investigate, they find no body and no signs of foul play. In “Nothing to Worry About,” Sidney and his wife are invited to a weekend party at a country manor, and the owner and his guests are about as intriguing a crew as you’re likely to find in any Agatha Christie mystery.
In “Fugue,” Sidney is watching a Steinway grand piano being lifted up to a second-story window when there’s a slip and the piano crashes to the ground, killing the man who had bought it. An accident – or not? In “A Following,” Sidney’s dean at Ely Cathedral asks him to keep an eye their canon, who seems to have too much of a roving eye when it comes to females.
“Prize Day” finds Sidney investigating a rigged explosion in a chemistry lab at a local school, and uncovering far more than a schoolboy’s prank. And in “Florence,” Sidney finds himself taken into police custody in the Italian city for suspected theft of a valuable painting.
And all through these stories, Sidney, and author Runcie, meditates on forgiveness – what it means, how difficult it can be, and what can happen when it’s not forthcoming.
Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins is the last of the currently published Grantchester mysteries, and it is just as good as its predecessors. And a new one is coning in June: Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation.
Photograph: Ely Cathedral.