The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



April 18, 2012

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death


I know this doesn't make sense, but have you ever planned to love a book before you even opened it?  Oxford, an English village, a  cozy mystery, a vicar as the sleuth (and a kind of sexy vicar at that), and a cover that makes it clear that it will be the first in a series. I love series mysteries (you've probably noticed that already), and this one has all the ingredients that I look for. Or, it seemed to, until I read it.  And then I realized it was missing a few key elements (like suspense, and deep character development, and good writing). Sigh. I still enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be good.  Maybe the next one (or two or three) will be.

Our vicar turned reluctant sleuth, Canon Sidney Chambers, is nice to spend time with, and I agree with some other readers who have said that his musings on religion and ethics are the best part of the book. {The author, James Runcie, is the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury.} He also has a love life, or he's trying to have to, and he'll be all right if he dumps his obnoxious current lady love. 

It's always a little odd when you're only 50 pages or so into a 400 page book and the mystery has been solved, but then I realized that this is really a series of five or six unconnected mysteries with recurring characters. That's a little unusual, and a good way to set up a book.  But what happens here, unfortunately, is that there's no real plotting, no slow unraveling, and definitely no feeling that you didn't see that coming, in any of them; all of a sudden, Sidney has a revelation and rushes to the police station or back to Grantchester to tell his friend Inspector Keating who did it. 

And the writing is sometimes like this,

It was the seventh of May 1954 and Sidney had, at last perfected the art of boiling an egg. He filled a saucepan with water, lowered a speckled specimen into position and placed it on the stove. As the water began to heat up, Sidney commenced his morning routine, It was vital to complete his shaving at the exact moment the water reached boiling pint. Then he would prepare his toast, The time taken to cook, turn and remove the toast from the grill, butter it and then cut it into soldiers was the exact time needed to boil his egg. If successfully achieved, the toast would still be hot, the butter melted, and the egg in perfect condition. It was extraordinary that he was now able to combine the preparation of breakfast with the act of shaving and, every time he did so, Sidney was filled with quiet satisfaction.

fun and quirky, and then sometimes it's like this:

He looked in and saw Amanda half-dressed, bound, gagged and unconscious on the floor. He called out her name. He heard a noise from inside and saw the shadow of a man move across a doorway. He ran back to the front door and waved Keating forward. He shouted out what he had seen. The officers were summoned. The door was broken down.  Two men ran to the back of the house. They found the lavatory unlocked. They knelt down beside Amanda. She was still breathing.

It feels mean to say this, because I know I wouldn't do any better, but it just feels like someone's first attempt at writing a story.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death will be published here on May 1. As I said before, it was a perfect dose of comfort reading, and I appreciate having the chance to read it, courtesy of the publisher, Bloomsbury.

3 comments:

Lisa May said...

I don't have to feel so bad then that neither of our library systems here has or will have the book!

Elizabeth Tierney said...

I'm sad! I have been looking forward to this book and almost ordered it tonight. Now I'm thinking that I will pass on it.

lyn said...

I've been looking forward to this ever since Cornflower first mentioned it. I've ordered it for the library & I'm still looking forward to reading it but maybe I've been seduced by that beautiful cover & the blurb... Thanks for the review though, I've just let my anticipation drop a few notches which is probably not a bad thing.