Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

In a small village near Cambridge, in the 1950s, a parish vicar named Sidney Chambers finds himself embroiled in a series of mysteries. He teams up with his drinking buddy on the local constabulary to get to the bottom of them, quizzing witnesses under the guise of pastoral care and generally sticking his nose into the business of his parishioners.

These books (there are a whole series of them; I have read two) were churned out in quick succession in the twenty-teens, and are transparently an attempt to cash in on the current trend for “cozy” detective fiction. (I can only assume that particular trend is somehow linked to the rise of conservative politics and a general nostalgia among white folks for a life of post-WWII bliss which conveniently disregards the realities of that period, not least of which was the relative novelty of indoor toilets. Menstruating women in particular should think about THAT.) There’s also next to no crime of a sexual nature (and no actual rape that we know of), which adds to the illusion of harmlessness that is only a reality for white men able to earn their own incomes. Sidney Chambers himself is a relatively benign, and therefore highly unlikely, specimen, being an Anglican vicar IN THE NINETEEN-FIFTIES with no particular rancor towards persons of other religions or non-heterosexual persuasions. He’s also a decorated war hero, thus satisfying the criteria for Thinking Woman’s Action Crumpet, aka the Peeta Mellark of the Church of England.

The mysteries themselves are less ingenious than I, a lifelong Agatha Christie fan, would like. As far as I know there are no full-length novels, only short stories – then again, it worked for Father Brown, by whom Canon Chambers was presumably inspired. There are some that follow the classic structure of putting all the clues on the table so that the reader can (and in one memorable case I did) solve it for herself; others, however, are more procedural in that they simply involve following a trail of clues sequentially in order to arrive at a solution that feels both formulaic and arbitrary. I may be a total slut for this genre, but I feel I deserve a little more thoughtfulness when it comes to the construction of a plot. I’m very suspicious of the particular type of enjoyment I get from this kind of book; then again, there’s no denying that in spite of all my protests, I do, indeed, enjoy it.