Forthcoming June 14, 2016
I first met Sidney Chambers through Masterpiece Theater, where he is played by a very handsome young actor. In the series, he is polished and, although curiosity is a major part of his character, and that which gets him involved in mysteries, he is not overly curious or overly interested in beautiful women.
This is the first of the books in the series upon which the television show is based that I have read and it was odd to meet a character as envisioned by the author when I had already met him on the screen. Runcie’s Sidney is very curious. In one of the stories that compose the novel Sidney’s German mother-in-law calls him nosy repeatedly–in German. Runcie’s Sidney is also attracted to beautiful women, such as Barbara Wilkinson, whose troubles with her son, who has joined a commune, make up the first mystery in the novel. A second mystery involves a stolen necklace and privileged college students. Sidney’s friend Amanda and his former housekeeper both struggle with their marriages, forming two of the middle stories. When Sidney and his German wife, Hildegard, vacation in East Germany Sidney encounters a murder that he solves but cannot bring to justice due to the corruption and secrecy of the communist regime there. In the last story, Sidney faces and fights homophobia as he tries to help a dear friend.
The short quips and brief nature of the stories themselves took me by surprise. Because the show contains hour-long mysteries, I expected the novel to contain one mystery that would unfold throughout the pages. As I settled in, I found myself enjoying the way Runcie mocks Sidney and Sidney mocks himself. Everyone mocks Sidney a bit and for various character foibles.
The title comes primarily from Sidney’s temptation, his thirst for beautiful women and mystery, but others are tempted along the way. Each story involves someone tempted by love in some way, usually the wrong way, until the last story, when the reader is left to judge and Sidney himself does not agree with the outcome.
Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation was not a long read, helped by the short vignettes that compose the volume and the lighthearted prose and plots. Runcie’s character, and the stories he features in, remind me of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency stories by Alexander McCall Smith. Both are perfect for a Sunday afternoon snuggled on the couch or in one’s favorite reading chair or, by the time this volume comes out in June, maybe on a nice chair in the sunshine. Then, if you are lucky, you can catch handsome Masterpiece Theater Sidney that Sunday evening.
Thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for an advance copy for review purposes.