The Road to Grantchester

The prequel to the Grantchester series that follows a young Sidney Chambers through wartime Italy and post-war London until his arrival in Grantchester.

It’s eight years since I started writing “The Grantchester Mysteries”.

During those years I have become so familiar with the thoughts and dreams of Canon Sidney Chambers that I have sometimes imagined I could go on writing about him forever. Yet there have also been moments when I haven’t been sure that I have known him at all. Just as we might wonder how we have come to be the people we are, so I have kept returning to a few central dilemmas. 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?

“The Road to Grantchester” begins in 1943, when Sidney is twenty-two years old and ends eight years later. In the course of the novel, he changes from being a man who has seen very little of the world into someone who has, perhaps, seen all too much. It’s a coming of age story, with romance and humour involving the young Amanda Kendall and there’s English social history too. It’s about war and peace, love and duty, guilt and forgiveness. There are crimes of sorts, and puzzles to work out but, in the end, as with all the Grantchester novels, the biggest mystery of all is the complex and inexhaustible working of the human heart.

London, 28th February 1938

They are in the Caledonian Club, dancing the quickstep. Sidney is eighteen. Amanda, his best friend’s little sister, is three years younger. The band is playing ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’: ‘To Me, You’re Beautiful’. He has asked her to dance out of politeness. He has good manners, everyone thinks so, but he enjoys it more than he had expected.

She is gracious, poised and moves more elegantly than he does, making sure they keep time and look good together. All around them, there is gaiety. The guests are well prepared. They have practised their steps and their behaviour. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. The conversation is easy, the laughter assured.

When the music comes to an end, Sidney acknowledges his partner with a bow. Amanda returns with a mock curtsey and a complicit smile that he can’t quite read. He escorts her back to her seat as etiquette demands but, straight away, she leaves to find her brother, Robert. She wants to be by his side for their father’s speech and the midnight birthday toast.

‘This is the moment,’ Sir Cecil Kendall announces, after the twelfth stroke of the clock and a general hurrah, ‘when my son comes of age and we let him loose into the world. All I can say is –’ here he stops to make sure that he has command of the silence ready for the laugh that will surely follow ‘– God help the world. A new star has arrived in the firmament, ready to set our lives ablaze.’

The room is filled with youth and age across the generations. There is wealth, ease and confidence, despite the political anxiety. No one believes there will be another war and, even if there is one, how can it possibly ruin the memory of this golden evening, with everyone in their finery, dancing on a polished wooden floor under the chandeliers with the orchestra playing and the candles ablaze?