BOOK REVIEW: The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

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This is written prior to Sidney being a priest and a detective in the well-known TV Series. He is a young man off to war and the horror, trials and traumas that comes with such a burden.

During this time Sidney and a group of other young men are sent to find some engineers, who it turns out have walked into a minefield. Two men are dead and two injured. Sidney and his men find and defuse mines to rescue the injured. He is then sent to find a sniper who has already killed some of his men. He sits and waits until dusk, then with a blink of metal and light he locates his target and fires. Afterwards he goes to find the German sniper, he’s young with a photograph of a young woman in his pocket. Who was he & who is she?

The soldier and his death begins to haunt Sidney, in his dreams and thoughts, he takes solace in a visiting priest ‘Rev Nev’ who offers some comfort. The men are barely surviving – Runcie is able to show us through his carefully constructed prose just how hideous WWII really was. The men keep each other alive and the bond is strong, until Sidney sees his best friend die, how he will cope without Richard Kendall.

On returning to England after the war, Sidney is lost, not knowing what he should do with his life. Eventually he feels his calling to God, he meets up with Nev the Rev and opens up about his feelings that he wants to do more with his life. His friend Amanda though is not so supportive of Sidney’s vocation and takes it as an insult to her dead brothers name.

I am not really a war fan, but Runcie has an amazing capability of explaining just how awful the trenches and war was for these young men/boys. Sent away with little life experience, to fight the enemy, and it highlights how pointless and sad the war was on so many levels.

On Sidney’s return, Runcie writes more about feelings, relationships and men trying to come to terms with the horrors that they have seen, but having to continue with everyday ‘normality’. He does this with an exceptional narrative through the protagonist Sidney. His explanations of the uneasy, unnerving emotions and finding his feelings towards God are truly moving. As Sidney takes on his new life of becoming ordained as a priest and understanding his faith, he still has to contend with his friendships and their tragedies. This is when Runcie introduces very subtly Sidney’s talent for observing the intricacies of a crime scene. The writing is so sophisticated that the reader may not even be aware of the momentousness of this event in Sidney’s future path.

If you have an interest in Britain’s recent History, particularly World War II, and the repercussions of it on the men that fought and the families left at home, then this book is for you. James Runcie has an eloquent style to his writing, not particularly easy to read at times. He portrays to the reader the gruesomeness of War and death, but also writes emotively showing true empathy with the protagonist and his trials and relationships that post war life offers.

The Road to Grantchester is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.

James Runcie

James Runcie is a Fellow of the Royals Society of Literature and the author of eleven novels which have been translated all over the world. Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death, the first in ‘The Grantchester Mysteries’ series, was published in 2012, soon followed by Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the NightSidney Chambers and The Problem of EvilSidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins, Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation and Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love. In October 2014, ITV/PBS launched Grantchester, a prime-time series starring James Norton as Sidney Chambers, with the second season airing in March 2016, and a third in the autumn of 2017. The fourth series will air in early 2019. In May 2016, James Runcie became Commissioning Editor for Arts at BBC Radio 4. He lives in London and Scotland. His latest novel is The Road to Grantchester.

Reviewed by Amanda Brightman

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