Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death

The FUNdaMentals book club will be discussing the short story The Shadow of Death by James Runcie over two session next month. I’ve just read it and am surprised at how much I enjoyed it despite the miniscule font size.

32-year-old Canon Sidney Chambers (the Vicar of Granchester) has never intended to be a detective but stumbles across a baffling case after a funeral when a woman voices her suspicion that the recent death of a Cambridge solicitor Stephen Staunton is not suicide, as has been widely reported, but murder. This woman is Pamela Morton, mistress of Staunton.

Canon Chambers is used to people confessing their sins but an accusation of murder is different. Why would anyone want to kill Staunton? What is Chambers supposed to do? As a priest, everything is his business; it is not his first case of adultery, never mind murder. He brings this to the attention of his friend Inspector Geordie Keating, who is not amused.

The other characters in the story are Staunton’s widow, Hildegard and his secretary Annabel Morrison.  I guessed the murderer quite early on, but I appreciate the way Runcie wove in the details and suspense.

Two things that I particulary like are the mention of two of the three great ‘B’ German composers, J S Bach and J Brahms (the other is L van Beethoven). These tie in nicely with the plot as well as Pamela who is of German descent, as Bach is also from Leipzig (where she came from) and his reknown The Well-Tempered Clavier (considered the “Bible” of music) is where she turns to for consolation on her Bechstein (one of the more presigious German brands at that time) upright piano; in particular the Fugue in B Minor (the final piece in the first book of WTC) because it is stark, angular, dramatic and mysterious as it uses all twelve notes of a chromatic scale as it is built to a conculsion that is as natural as  it is inevitable. Brahms’ German Requiem is a popular  funeral march, a very moving journey from pain to comfort.

The other thing I like is Runcie’s use of metaphor, especially the one in which tupperware is used to show how life is comparmentalised like things that are kept fresh in these little neat air-tight containers.

One quote I like very much is: We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.



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