A Guide to the Grantchester Books In Order
Can’t get enough Grantchester? The TV detective show as seen on MASTERPIECE on PBS is based on a series of popular mystery books by James Runcie. Explore our guide to the Grantchester books in published order, along with intriguing insights from the author about his characters and the time period that will help you appreciate the books and the TV series even more.
The son of a former archbishop of Canterbury, Runcie confesses to The Rap Sheet that he thought cinematically from the start: “When I began writing these detective novels featuring a sleuthing vicar set in 1950s England, I did try to think as if it was a film …[which] may seem a cynical exercise, but I think it helped the writing come alive.” The good news that his stories would air on TV (with vicars first portrayed by James Norton, then by Tom Brittney) came after Runcie finished the first two titles in The Grantchester Mysteries. He then completed four more Grantchester books before circling back to publish a prequel in 2019.
Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death
Overview: Bachelor Sidney Chambers is a Cambridgeshire vicar in 1953. He likes his jazz hot, his beer tepid, and enjoys sharing confidences and games of backgammon with pal, police inspector Geordie Keating. Launching a sideline as an amateur sleuth begins when a funeral attendee raises suspicions about the dead man’s suicide. In all, this first title offers six separate but interwoven stories of the vicar and police inspector sorting out Grantchester’s criminal element. Mrs. Maguire, Leonard, and pup Dickens are also all present and accounted for!
Author Insights: Runcie noted the advantages of involving clergy in a criminal inquiry: “They can go where the police can’t go and can do things unofficially,” he told The Scotsman. “But that utter familiarity with death matters. Death doesn’t surprise them. They move through life with the expectation of dealing with it on a daily basis. They are like spiritual doctors, always on duty for their parishioners.”
Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night
Overview: Self-doubting Sidney sorts out his feelings about two women in his life: the German widow Hildegard Staunton and old friend Amanda Kendall. He also helps Geordie probe another half dozen cases, which touch on moral issues from bigamy to capital-punishment and the rights of gay people.
Author Insights: The transition from the late 1950s to the early 1960s “was an extraordinary time,” Runcie told Listening Books. “The death penalty was still extant, homosexuality was illegal, women’s career opportunities were limited. …One of the things I’m doing in this social history of Britain—because the books move from 1953 to 1977— is to explore the change in social conditions and the nature of forgiveness.”
Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil
Overview: Spoiler alert! It’s early in the 1960s and Sidney is relishing his first year of marriage. To his wife’s dismay, the vicar’s hobby of deducing whodunits still intrigues him and fortunately for him, crime continues apace in Grantchester. Sidney helps Geordie not only stop a serial killer, but also investigate an “accidental” drowning and the theft of a newborn from the hospital.
Author Insights: “Being a detective, it sort of hits a nerve,” Runcie told the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast. “Because of course, one of the key things about Sidney is he’s easily bored. He’s bored by routine, and he likes adventure and drama. There’s nothing more dramatic than crime.”
Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins
Overview: Changes are happening in Sidney Chambers’ life in 1964—his baby daughter’s learning to walk, a promotion to Archdeacon, and the arrival of a popular new curate named Malcolm. Geordie makes use of Sidney’s intuition to deal with a murder suspect claiming sanctuary at the church, a death by falling piano, and even a case where Sidney himself is suspect. The vicar’s rapport with dear friend Amanda Kendall continues to be an important thread, and in one of this title’s stories, Sidney is rightly concerned when she starts receiving death threats while planning her wedding.
Author Insights: “The crucial thing about Amanda is that she allows a bit of wit and comedy. …It’s very important there’s humor to lighten all that crime,” Runcie explained to the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast. “It allows you to become darker. Once you’ve had a comic moment, you can be darker afterwards. It opens up the writing to be much more filled with contrast.”
Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation
Overview: Beginning in the late 1960s, these individual stories are peppered with historic events like the first moon landing, the emergence of the band Pink Floyd and the political impact of the Soviet Union. While crime still demands attention from the Archdeacon and DI Keating, Sidney also contends with Mrs. Maguire’s retirement, the replacing of beloved dog Dickens, and Leonard’s falling in love with hunky Simon Hackford.
Author Insights: “Throughout these six books, Leonard will gradually come out more and more,” Runcie said in the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast interview. “This is one element of the television series that has really influenced me—the performance of Al Weaver as Leonard Finch. I think he’s so wonderful that I’ve written far more about him than I originally intended.”
Sidney Chambers and The Persistence of Love
Overview: As the early 1970s progress in a half dozen intertwined mysteries, traditional Grantchester is permeated by folk singers, psychedelic drugs, and permissive behavior—while the vicar contends with a radical new secretary, parenting struggles, and an enormous personal loss. Only Sidney and Geordie’s mutually supportive and productive partnership remains a constant. Coming from different perspectives, they crack cases from the death of two hippies to the disappearance of Sidney’s rebellious nephew, who may have joined a cultish political movement.
Author Insights: The relationship between Sidney and Geordie remains at the heart of the story. “The big thing is that Geordie is absolutely fixed on practical solutions, ‘What can I do practically to make society better?’” Runcie told the MASTERPIECE Studio podcast. “Whereas Sidney’s interested in issues of morality and ‘How can I heal people?’ … [His] aim for compassion, to be a good man in a bad world, is the driving force behind the entire drama and all the contradictions that then involves.”
The Road to Grantchester
Overview: This is a prequel to The Grantchester Mysteries’ six-title book series. While it offers a mystery to solve, the plot mainly focuses on the origin story of Grantchester’s vicar. The tale starts with a 22-year-old Sidney Chambers dancing with Amanda Kendall before the start of World War II. The story then jumps to 1945, as Sidney returns to London, having lost a friend, and earned a Military Cross at the Italian front. He must decide what to do with the rest of his life.
Author Insights: “I kept returning to a few central dilemmas,” Runcie notes on his website. “How did Sidney decide to become a priest? Why does he feel the need to involve himself in criminal investigation? And what fuels his desire to do good in the world?”
“I’m glad I thought about [The Grantchester Mysteries] filmically,” Runcie told The Rap Sheet. “And it’s good to have it both ways now, so I can tell people who don’t like the books to watch the TV series; and people who don’t like the TV series can always read the books, instead. It’s only when they don’t like both that I have to ask them to go somewhere altogether different!”