Sidney Chambers & the Perils of the Night (2013) by James Runcie
Another round of interconnected short stories featuring Canon Sidney Chambers and his friend Inspector Keating. This time it is 1955 and Chambers finds himself caught up in the world of spies. The first story features the death of one of the fellows of Cambridge--Valentine Lyall and two students were doing a spot of "night climbing," scaling the towers and buildings of the university. Something goes wrong and Lyall, an experienced climber, plunges to his death and one of the undergraduates disappears. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the first thought is that Lyall was a spy recruiter--though for whose side, we don't know--and the two students must have been recruits. The university Master wants everything hushed up as a straightforward accident and asks Sidney to keep a watching brief for the university with Inspector Keating. At the end of the day, it is decided (whether rightly or wrongly) to say that it was an accident.
Next up is a bit of arson at an old summerhouse being used as a photographer's studio in Grantchester and Chambers finds himself the subject of gossip when he purchases a girlie magazine in pursuit of his part of the investigation. At the end of the investigation, he receives a small, spy-type camera from the photographer. The third story finds Chambers investigating the death of a mathematics professor. It appears to be a heart attack, but his friend Hildegarde isn't so sure. In the fourth story, Grantchester's best spin bowler is poisoned during a cricket match. Is the motive racially based? The next story focuses on Chambers' friend Amanda who thinks she's ready to marry an astrophysicist. But Chambers has doubts about the man and has to investigate. The sixth and last story circles back to the spy theme. Chambers goes to visit Hildegarde in Germany and stumbles across the student who disappeared in the first story. The student hands him a top-secret film, gets shot before his eyes, Chambers almost goes to prison, and then there's this twist at the end. Exciting stuff--which is in total contrast to the laid-back atmosphere of Grantchester and the rest of the book (even the spy overtones of the beginning).
I'm not going to lie...Sidney Chambers just isn't doing if for me. I wasn't all that excited about his debut when I read it two years ago, but I wanted to give him another chance. The most endearing thing about the man is he brings up Lord Peter Wimsey in the cricket match story. But, overall, my view of these stories still stands--the characters just don't grab me and I don't buy Chambers as an amateur detective. His style is all just talk to people and somehow he magically just knows what happened and is (according to Grantchester lore) "never wrong." The conversations he has with people just don't make a great deal of sense to me. They seem to be full of non sequiturs that don't connect in any way to what Chambers is investigating. I realize that some people do throw non sequiturs into conversations...but not every single conversation and not every single person you meet. There are people who just think that way and having a character that is like that is one thing; having stories full of them is another.
According to Kirkus Reviews, "only a churl could resist Sidney...." I guess that makes me a churl, because I'm resisting and redonating the remaining volumes of the series (I have four more...) to the library bookstore. Perhaps someone less churlish than I will enjoy them. ★★
First line: As the afternoon light faded over the village of Grantchester, the parishioners lit fires, drew curtains, and bolted their doors against the dangers of darkness.
Last line: Life had certainly bowled him the odd googly, and doubtless there would be further tests, trials, and tribulations, but just for now, on this day, it was to be enjoyed in all its fullness and with all its wonders, the most wondrous gift of all being nothing less than the love of such a fine woman, his very onw, his beloved Hildegarde.
Deaths = 6 (one fell from height; one natural; one auto accident; one shot down in WWII; one drowned; one poisoned)