Sidney Chambers in The Forgiveness of Sins by James Runcie

The Forgiveness of Sins is the fourth book of the Grantchester mystery series. These stories are not suspense stories but quiet mysteries, involving more than solving a crime. They offer insight into problems of evil, sin, and redemption. Critics have compared the series to G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries.

The main character of the Grantchester series, however, is drawn more fully. He is Sidney Chambers, an Anglican priest. He loves jazz and walking his dog. He constantly worries that his investigative pursuits may keep him from both his priestly duties and, eventually, his family responsibilities.

Single at the beginning of the series, he marries and becomes a father. Many of the mysteries involve close friends. One of his sidekicks in the stories is a policeman friend with whom he enjoys games and drinks in a neighborhood pub.

My enjoyment of the stories springs from the dry, British-understated dialog, as well as occasional inclusion of the political and cultural events of his time. The series begins shortly after World War II, when rationing was in effect. In The Forgiveness of Sins, Sidney and his family are in Florence, Italy in 1966 during the disastrous floods that ravaged the city. A masterpiece stolen during the flood plays into one of the mysteries.

During times of turmoil, such as the one unleashed by recent political events, I find such books as the Grantchester series to be soothing while thoughtful, a rest from some of our dystopian who-done-its.

A reviewer of the series for The Seattle Times, Mary Ann Gwinn, wrote: “Runcie meant these novels to be a commentary on life in post-World War II Britain, and so they are. But the themes of good and evil, temptation and sacrifice, remain as fresh as today’s news feed.”

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