The Road to Grantchester

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

The Road to Grantchester is the newest Grantchester novel by James Runcie. Released 7th May 2019 by Bloomsbury, it's 336 pages and available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio formats.

Although this is the seventh book in the series, it's a prequel and develops Sidney Chambers' life during and after WW2. The book deals with his loss of innocence in war and maturation as well as the often fraught road along the way to his religious calling. The book is divided into four sections (War, Peace, Faith, Love) delineating his own pilgrim's progress from the hellishness of war and personal loss through to his personal enlightenment and re-purposing his life in service to others.

This could have been a very very heavy and potentially pompous book. However, Runcie's deftness and expertise with everything technical in his writing as well as an unerring ear for dialogue and dramatic tension turn this into a sublime read. I really enjoyed every single page.

All of the books have had a somewhat melancholy feeling for me. They're all so exquisitely well written that the misty melancholy jazzy feeling is part and parcel of the books' appeal in some way and I wouldn't change anything about them. I don't think I'd recommend binge reading them though, that might be a bit much.

Five stars. This one is my favourite of the series to date.
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Now I have never read any of the other stories but I have watched the PBS series so I am familiar with the characters. I could not get farther an a third of the way through this book which was over 140 pages. I really tried but I did not care about Sydney nor how he became a priest. Maybe if I had read one of the mysteries and was familiar with the writing my experience would have been different. This was a prequel novel so the entire story was background but I felt like I was missing preexisting character development. If you have already read the series then please pick this up but it just wasn't enough for me to finish it.
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Thanks, Netgalley, for this arc.

I'm a big fan of the Grantchester TV series - after a recent rewatch, I still think I prefer the show over the books. At some parts this "prequel" was slow and dragged; the first third of the book took place on the WWII battlefields, so if you're not immune to reading about warfare, you might want to skip over it. All the same, it was interesting to see Sidney's journey from soldier to priest.
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The Road to Grantchester is a excellently written book. It gives a superb portrait of a young WWII soldier as he reacts to his calling to the priesthood. The book covers many years in Sydney’s life as it follows him through the horrors of the war, his reintegration into society, and his struggles to accept his calling. The author captured my imagination from beginning. I loved the characters who were so flawed and human and wonderful. This is a great book that I will enjoy reading again. My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
#TheRoadToGrantchester #NetGalley
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This is a prequel to the Grantchester books.  It tells the story of how Sidney Chambers decided to go to seminary school and become a minister and how he met a very young Amanda Kendall.  It fills in the backstory of the character we know so well from the books and the PBS series, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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The Road to Grantchester is a wonderful read for fans of the Grantchester books or the Masterpiece Mystery! series.
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This prequel to the Grantchester mystery series does not involve a crime to be solved but rather unravels the mysteries of the human heart.  The reader discovers the origin of Sidney Chambers and Amanda Kendall’s complex but deep and enduring friendship; the influence of Amanda’s brother, Robert; and Sidney’s discernment of his call to ministry.

The book begins in earnest when Sidney is 22 and fighting with the Scots Guards in WWII Italy.  This was the hardest section for me to read and consumes 35% of the book.  It was gruesome and dragged at times, or as Sidney aptly described combat: “oscillation between boredom and terror.”  Nevertheless, it set the stage for the remaining 65%.  We see the effect of war on the personalities of various men and their families, particularly how war shaped Sidney’s calling to the priesthood.  

The scenes set back in England moved faster for me.  The returning soldiers struggle with a post-war awkwardness.  How much of their experiences do they share with civilians and how much do they keep private?  How do they manage the guilt that they survived while some of their buddies did not?  Sidney’s parents, Amanda, and his Cambridge mates don’t understand his growing interest in the priesthood.  Amanda meanwhile is no longer on speaking terms with God as she wrestles with the age-old question of how a good God could allow suffering.  

There is one hint of the future Sidney-as-Sherlock when Chambers figures out the cause of death of gay actor’s young lover.  With the exception of the combat scenes, much of the action in this novel happens on the inside of the characters as they try to make sense of World War II and its aftermath.  

As someone of the Christian faith, I was intrigued by Sidney’s discernment of his calling.  His conversations with “Rev Nev” (the Scots Guard chaplain) and his multiple encounters with the Emmaus Road passage in Luke 24 fascinated me.  As the wife of a combat veteran, I was reminded of the difficult re-entry experienced by some soldiers at the conclusion of their deployment.  In sum, this Grantchester book is not like the mystery series we’ve grown accustomed to, but worth reading in its own right.
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I received this from Netgalley.com for a review. 

This book is a prequel to The Grantchester Mysteries Series books. I was first introduced to Sidney on the TV series 'Grantchester'. On one hand, it was good to understand how Sidney came to be who he is in the series, but having known the characters in a 3 dimensional world, this book was a bit of a let down. 

3☆
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It is 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II. Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts, and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clerical detective. He can go where the police cannot.

James Runcie has “become so familiar with the thoughts and dreams of Canon Sidney Chambers,” that he occasionally thinks he “could go on writing about him forever.” The Road to Grantchester is Chambers’ origin story; a prequel which reveals the answers to Runcie’s recent musings about how Sidney Chambers, cleric and crime-solver, came to be.

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?

These are a young man’s questions. Said Freud: “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness,” so it follows that happiness means an equal investment in love and work. What if your work is the outcome of your love of God? Also, is there an aspect of Chambers’ priestly vocation that lends itself to detection?

London—February, 1938. Sidney dances with his best friend’s sister, Amanda Kendall, in the halcyon days before the war. Before an assembly of the great and the good, Sir Cecil Kendall toasts his son at midnight in honor of Robert’s twenty-first birthday.

“Five years later, Sidney Chambers is on a transport ship with the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards, preparing for landing south of Salerno.” Besides his friends Robert and Freddie, waiting to disembark, Sidney “thinks of Dante: the dead lining up for purgatory.” War is brutal and instantaneous.

Lawlor, a young ginger-haired boy from Falkirk who has lied about his age in order to join up, calls out: ‘So, this is sunny Italy?’ As soon as he gets to the shore he treads on a landmine and is killed. Half a mile from the beaches, the Germans send shells over that throw up geysers all around them.

In a quiet moment, Sidney reads Psalm 91 from the prayer book his mother gave him: A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Sidney is dubious: why would he be saved? It’s a crack in his armor, recalling the plea, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief”—Matthew 9:24, King James Bible.

The “Rev Nev,” as he’s called, is a part of the 2nd Battalion. It’s not his first war, so his advice is both temporal and spiritual, like telling Kendall to dig his foxhole deeper. The Rev is peppered with questions—wartime is hell on earth: is he “offering a future state to keep us quiet about this one?” No. His rejoinder envisions the type of priesthood Sidney will aspire to, dispensing prayers and tots of something earthier.

‘I believe there is no higher calling than to be a priest in the service of God and God’s people; to offer some kind of stability in a bewildered world.’

 

‘Blimey,’ says Kendall. ‘You’ve certainly come to the right place.’

 

‘But I can tell,’ the padre continues, ‘that I am depressing you all. Too many memories of school chapel, I can see. Would you like some whisky?’

 

‘That’s more like it.’

Sidney is saved from drowning by Robert Kendall. Freddie and Robert tell him what happened, although Robert makes light of his gallantry, saying, “You would have done the same for me. And it saves me the bother of having to go and tell your mother you’d gone and bought it.” Soon afterward, Robert is killed. Sidney is devastated, telling Rev Nev that he can’t go on but Nev makes time to pray: “He gives Robert Kendall attention, respect, a gap in time.” Sidney learns a lesson that will make him a better priest and a better detective. He’s worried about telling the Kendalls about Robert’s death but Nev tells him, “In my experience, you do very little talking.” The bereaved and the lonely need a listener, someone completely attuned to their needs.

Read Angie Barry’s review of Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love, the sixth book in the Grantchester Mysteries.
Sidney is wounded and is sent to convalesce in a monastery. An Irish nurse, Catherine, senses that Sidney is struggling like Doubting Thomas: how does he know God exists? Catherine dreamily recounts the story of the Supper at Emmaus, when Christ appears at a supper table with a married couple. She tells Sidney recognizing that God walks beside us requires only that “we wait, we pray, we listen.”

At last, the war ends. Sidney is seconded as an “aide-de-camp to the Head of British delegation, Humphrey Waldock,” tasked with carving out new borders through the Italo-Yugoslav Boundary Commission. Waldock wants to help Sidney with his future endeavors but he has no patience for “shilly-shallying” and uncertainty.

‘You can’t have survived the war for nothing. Don’t waste the reward of peace.’

 

‘Except it doesn’t feel like peace, does it, sir? I can’t quite trust it.’

 

‘Well, it’s all we’ve got, Captain Chambers, so we have to make the most of it.’

An exhortation of sorts. When Sidney finally comes home, he borrows George Herbert’s words to explain himself to Amanda Kendall: “soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer.” She takes him to the National Gallery where she focuses on domestic scenes, telling Sidney “people will always need to eat, drink, wash and play music.”

They find themselves in front of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, Christ with outstretched arms in blessing, the two strangers suddenly realising who is with them, light in the darkness, the simplicity of bread and gesture; its distilled meaning.

Sidney recalls his conversation with Catherine about Emmaus and wonders if it were God or Amanda who planned for him to see Caravaggio’s painting, marveling “how faith can arrive like the dawn.” Sidney surrenders, consults with Rev Nev, and, braving brushback from his oldest friends and family, decides to become a priest.

Not only a priest but unbeknownst to Sidney, an investigator as well. Here’s how it starts. Henry, Freddie’s ex-lover, accuses Freddie of killing Frank, Henry’s special new friend. Sidney uncovers the truth with almost preternatural ease because of his powers of observation and his deep knowledge of his friends. Sidney picks up the gun at the crime scene and sniffs it. There are no traces of gunpowder, ergo, his friend is innocent, and Frank’s death is by his own hand.

Sidney insists on honesty, for himself, and his flock, leading by example with gentle persistence. His first assignment in the modern suburbs of Coventry is rather grim, according to Freddie, ever the bon vivant. Sidney is “a long way from Cambridge feasts and philosophical speculation, the glamour of London theatre and the front line of war.” It would be foolish, however, to think that Sidney is not destined for greater things. Thanks to the good offices of Humphrey Waldock, and an Archdeacon who “is one of Rev Nev’s old muckers,” he is asked to apply for the job of vicar in Grantchester, “one of the most coveted in the Diocese of Ely.” And so it begins. What a pleasure it will be for a new reader of “The Grantchester Mysteries” to start off with The Road to Grantchester.
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Sidney Chambers unveiled!

This is the prequel to the wonderful series that is Grantchester. But here's the thing of art and form, of image and words. I love the tv series. Because I'm addicted to the visual presentation of Grantchester, I adore Sidney and all the other characters. I ask myself a question. How to divorce that exploration of the visual senses from the literary imaginative senses? Need I?
Bother! I can't!  I keep seeing the actors doing their thing. I hear their voices in the prose. Should my already imaged characters be different from my imagined literary characters? Does it lessen the story's ability to stand in its own right? Well you can't put the genie back in the bottle! That's enough of a convoluted thought process, I just have go with what I've perceived through all the mediums. Hopefully one informs and enhances the other.
It's pre war 1938 London and the story opens with Sidney's best friend, Robert Kendall's eighteenth birthday dance. Sidney dances with Robert's sister, fifteen year old Amanda. Amanda decides that she will call him Chambers. And this marks the beginning of them knowing each other.
Five years later we see Sidney as he's about to enter the European Theatre of World War II. In Italy to be precise. 
We experience Chambers' sense of loss as those beside him die in unspeakable conditions and in nightmarish battles. With him we rage at the hopelessness of soldiers being fodder, sent up mountainsides only to be repeatedly mowed down. We understand how all this is shaping Sidney into what he will become.
As he tries to make sense of it all the idea of why, and the justness of a God looms large.
The buildup, despite the horrors is steady but it's really only in the last chapters that more is revealed as Sidney realizes his calling to be a man of the cloth, under the umbrella of the Anglican Church. He struggles to capture his view of God, his relationship with God, and how that might inform his actions. 
The tension between Amanda and Sidney, the way their relationship just never quite gets the ground, the lost opportunities, is marked by Sidney's hesitations. He's always to measured, too late.
The secret for that is unveiled. 
This prelude does indeed point the way for us to know more deeply the Sidney we love. To how he comes to be in Grantchester where the friends he surrounds himself with become ours, and to the never ending question of his relationship with Amanda.
I enjoyed the journey.

A Bloomsbury ARC via NetGalley
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I received an ARC from #NetGalley and the publisher Bloomsbury USA. Thanks to both for the opportunity to read and review.

The Road to Grantchester is Mr. Runcie's answer to all of his readers' questions about Sidney Chambers, his experiences in WWII, his struggles with becoming a priest, how he came to be the character beloved by many.

Completely entertaining and engaging, a great read, unusual feat for a prequel.

4 out of 5 stars. Recommended read.
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The Road to Grantchester is the prequel to the well known Grantchester mysteries, made into a TV series.  Fans of the books should note that this is not a mystery.  This story tells how Sidney Chambers went from university graduate to the pulpit.  I’m sure the title is meant to invoke thoughts of St Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the Road to Damascus, but there is no parallel here.  Sidney’s journey is much more measured, kindled in the Italian theater in World War II, tempered by the post-war duties and sense of displacement that many felt on returning from the battlefields.  It was interesting to watch Sidney choose his path, and the telling felt authentic.  I have watched the TV shows (for some reason have not been able to get into the other books in the series) and the background provided here really adds to the shows, particularly the earlier ones.

I really liked this book overall.  There are two things that detracted for me, though.  One is the amount of time devoted to the wartime experiences.  It seemed never-ending and at one point I nearly gave up.  The other is more difficult to put my finger on – it is all written in the present tense and there aren’t any real ‘markers’ to tell you that some time (months, years) have passed.  I was able to make the leap from one timeframe to another once I understood that.
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While reading the Grantchester series and watching the TV shows, it often occurred to me to wonder what made Sidney Chambers tick. Why would a young, nice looking, slightly sexy man opt for the Church when there are so many other post-World War II options. As a prequel to the series, this book attempts to answer those questions. Beginning in a lighthearted way in 1938, as Sidney and Amanda cut a rug at her brother's birthday party, the book sees a dramatic change in Sidney post-War. It's a different world, and weighed down with guilt, searching for peace of mind, Sidney eventually leans toward his vocation, much to the surprise of his family and friends. But even that road is not a smooth one. 
This book explores Sidney's relationships and talents, and his life from university to becoming Archdeacon --  it's more of a novel than a mystery, but a satisfying glimpse into what makes Sidney Chambers, Sidney Chambers. And since I had believed the Grantchester series ended with the previous book, news of its publication was a delicious surprise. Recommended for anyone who's looking for a better understanding of the characters and the trajectory of Sidney Chambers' life. 
I received an advance reader copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher; this is my honest review.
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This book acts as a prequel to the Grantchester mystery series. It tells the story of Sidney Chambers as he fights in World War II and eventually decides to become a priest. I enjoyed reading the Grantchester mysteries and watching the miniseries. However, I struggled that this book essentially switched genres. While the mysteries are told in short story, with Sidney working to solve a mystery, this is more of a work of historical fiction. As a result, I did not enjoy this book as much as the mystery stories. I feel like the mysteries were more successful for storytelling. Still, I appreciated the story about how Sidney became a priest. It also offers some good insight about what it is like to experience PTSD and try to re-engage in everyday life.
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I personally found it to drag on, It wasn’t my cup of tea, and the formatting seemed off to me. Mainly how the dialogue was set up, but some of the characters I found fun to follow!
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What the Dickens?!

I adore the TV show Grantchester. I love the characters, the dialogue, the mysteries, etc. Sadly, the actor of the main character, Sidney Chambers, has left the show recently and so they've had to replace him with a new main character, who I don't dislike, but I do miss Sidney so I'd been considering reading the books to get my Sidney-fix.

This book is actually a prequel to when the show (and the first book) began, so I thought it'd be a good introduction to the books. Although it could easily be read as a introduction to either the books or the show, I really enjoyed reading about Sidney's journey to get to where he winds up in the rest of the series having already known him and some of the other characters. It explains a lot about Sidney's character and his relationship with Amanda, with all the charm, witty dialogue, and depth of character I've come to expect from the show. It didn't really have the usual mystery element, it's much more about the characters, but it was still just as enjoyable.

Advanced review copy from publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.

(To be posted 30 days before release as per publisher request)
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James Runcie’s “The Road to Grantchester “, takes hold of the reader right from the start and never lets go.  It is 1938 when we meet Sidney Chambers on the occasion of his best friend, Robert’s, 18th birthday celebration.  The orchestra plays as Sidney glides across the dance floor with Amanda, Robert’s younger sister..  Thier futures abound with possibilities and the stars are theirs for the taking. 

 No one would imagine that war was waiting around the bend or that Sidney and Robert would find themselves on the frontline of an Italian campaign.  Runcie’s writing produces gripping depictions of the boredom, fear and chaos of battle.  One such battle leaves Robert dead and Sidney wounded.

Postwar, Sidney tries to find direction in life. He harbors loss, guilt and anger.  He struggles with a calling to God, something that shocks him as much as his friends and family. 

The book is a prequel that stands alone nicely even if you have not read the others or seen the PBS series.  If you have seen/read the series, this is a beautiful enhancement to Sidney’s journey.   The Road to Grantchester is one worth traveling.
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As soon as I saw this title on NetGalley, I desperately wanted to read it.  Many thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for granting my request.  The opinions below are my own.

I read the first Sidney Chambers novel, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, when it was first published.  I was captivated by the character of Sidney and wanted to know more about him.  I have continued to read the stories and have adored the Grantchester series on TV.  For me, James Norton has personified Sidney in a most satisfactory way. 

The Road to Grantchester tells the story of Sidney before he was the TV character or the man in SC and the Shadow of Death.  I was so pleased at the prospect of learning how he became himself.

The beginning of the book was not easy.  After a brief prelude, Sidney is immersed in the horrors (and I mean horrors) of WWII in Italy where he serves with Robert Kendall. Robert is the brother of Amanda, a key character in the series.

What Sidney and his fellow soldiers witness and participate in is truly unspeakable.  James Runcie has written about war in a way that will make the reader long for peace.  Survival in his circumstances is kind of a miracle for Sidney.  However, not everyone important to him makes it home safely.

As a reader, because of how awful it was, I was relieved to move to the part of the novel that was post war.  Sidney comes home to a world that has changed and yet he has changed even more.  He tries to understand what he is meant to do with the gift of his life.  After much reflection, he decides to join the church.  The reader follows Sidney on his on-going faith journey.

This book is also about those important to Sidney.  There is Robert his best friend and war compatriot...no spoilers here so I will not say more.  As in the TV series, there is prickly Amanda whose relationship with Chambers (as she calls him) is complex but important.

I left this book wanting to reread all of James Runcie's books.  This is an excellent read if you are a fan of Sidney, want to remember why war is a mess or if you want to understand a protagonist's wish to live a meaningful life.

This novel may not be for everyone but for me it was a five star read.
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I love the PBS series Grantchester. The main character, Sidney Chambers, is portrayed as a flawed man struggling with his faith and vocation. His becoming a priest has alienated him from his worldly friends who don't understand his choice. He must cope with the strictures of the organized church. He is flawed and understands human frailty in others.

I have wanted to read the novels by James Runcie, and even bought the first in the series, but reviewing new books keeps me busy and it has languished in the TBR pile. 

But now I am not sorry because I can start at the very beginning with Runcie's newest novel in the series, a prequel titled The Road to Grantchester. 

How did the attractive, intelligent, lover of jazz end up in the priesthood? This novel shows us the events and internal anguish that brought Sidney to change his life.

The first section of the novel begins with Sidney and his London friends enjoying theater and fancy dinners and dancing. A quick jump five years later finds Sidney on a transport ship to Salerno. He is with his best friend from university, Robert Kendall, and Freddie Hawthorne, a theatrical star. These bright young men are thrown into bloody battle, Sidney set to being a sniper. They experience the destruction and misery of war.

The Episcopal priest Rev Nev is with the soldiers. "What does a priest do in the midst of this?" a friend asks him."I believe there is no higher calling than to be a priest in the service of God and God's people; to offer some kind of stability in a bewildered world," he explains. The soldiers are more than bewildered for the evil of war feels overwhelming and faith in a loving God flees. The men contend daily with mud and cold, their comrades shattered and dying, and they long for the simple pleasures of clean dry clothes and a hot bath. And mostly wonder what it is like to have no enemy. The pleasant days of dancing with Amanda Kendall is a distant memory.

They arrive at the Gustav Line, a flooded valley without cover which they must cross to make their way up Monte Cassino with enemy fire raining down from the monastery at the top where the Nazis have buried in. During the battle, Robert Kendall dies, leaving a heartbroken Sidney with survivor's guilt and questions of culpability.

It is Rev Nev who helps Sidney, explaining the mystery of faith in a broken world, and how to accept the mystery of life. At war's end, Sidney realizes it is grace that he needs. His friends note the change in him. Oh dear, Freddie exclaims, either you've had too much to drink or you really have got religion.

I know about these battlefield faith experiences from my friend Floyd Erickson, a WWII veteran who was in the 10th Mountain Division. They were in Italy and had to climb Monte Belvedere at night. While advancing across the Po Valley in the foothills of the Apennines, his best friend was killed in a blast that left Floyd deaf in one ear. While under fire, Floyd prayed to God for protection, offering a lifetime of service if he survived. Floyd made it home and changed his life. I knew him as a revered family man and leader in the local church. (Read more here.)

Part Two follows Sidney back home to England, facing Robert's grieving family and Amanda who can't reconcile a loving God with her brother's death, and his own family's expectations for Sidney's post-war career. Sidney lives with Robert's ghost. 

While Amanda and Sid's other friends only want to forget the war and have fun, Sidney finds that kind of life deadly and meaningless. He longs for a life with purpose. It's more than depression that ails Sidney--he is searching for peace. He continues to turn to Rev Nev for spiritual guidance. 

"I need to change my life," Sidney explains to Amanda. And in Part Three, Sidney explores faith and a vocation as a priest.

There is a lot of God talk and faith talk in the novel. It is after all about Sidney's journey to the priesthood. I discovered that Runcie's father was Archbishop of Canterbury, which explains the depth and realism of Sidney's journey. The rejection suffered from friends is also realistic. Amanda is unable to accept Sidney's choice and accepts the proposal from another man. I love that Freddie, who is gay, is the one friend who seems to 'get' Sidney and supports his decision.

Several episodes show Sidney's ability to understand people and know how best to counsel them, and his native ability to notice what other's don't see, both traits important to his ability to solve puzzles and crimes.

My favorite scene is Sidney's ordination which takes place in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. A charred cross "symbolizes determination, survival, and above all, the possibility of Resurrection." He is presented with a cross made of nails gleaned from the ruins. The symbolism is vivid. Britain has suffered greatly, the world is broken. In taking orders, Sidney dedicates his life to the rebuilding of faith and hope in a devastated people. From these ruins, he is to raise up God's love to light the path forward. Sidney is trying to heal himself. He trusts he will also become a vehicle of healing to his flock.

I was impressed with Runcie's ability to show Sidney's path to his vocation, from the hard to read horror of war to the emptiness of frivolous pleasure, the questionings and embracing the mystery, and the bafflement of old friends who stereotype the priesthood. 

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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This beautifully written book gives a marvelous portrait of a young WWII soldier as he slowly feels the call to become a priest in the Church of England. This is one of the best written books I've read in a long time; I read it in two sittings. It is very Anglican in tone - not preachy, but subtle and powerful in its religious language and concepts. Episcopalians in the United States will love it.
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