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The prequel to the beloved Grantchester mystery series takes Sidney Chambers from his halcyon university days to the horrors of World War II and finally to a life-changing decision.

Along with his best friend, the ebullient Robert Kendall, Sidney has signed up with the Scots Guards. They arrive on the Italian coast only to see many of their mates cut to pieces in a hail of German bullets, grenades, bombs, and artillery fire. Robert’s cricket success and Sidney’s first-class degree in classics at Cambridge seem a distant dream as every day they face the horrors and deprivations of war. They use irreverent humor to keep them going and also make friends with "Rev Nev" Finnie, an Episcopal priest with whom Sidney has philosophical discussions. When Robert is killed in battle, Sidney is given the Military Cross and promoted to captain, but as a lifelong friend of the Kendall family, especially Robert’s sister, Amanda, he cannot help but feel guilty he is alive, and his inattention leads to his being wounded by a sniper and eventually returning to England. Sidney mopes about trying to comfort Amanda, Sir Cecil, and Lady Kendall while he slowly realizes he must give a thought for his own future. His old friends suggest teaching or diplomacy, but Sidney finds himself inexorably drawn to the priesthood and the peace he seeks. Amanda is somewhat horrified by this choice, and he dithers for awhile but finally comes to a decision after two weeks of religious retreat in a monastery arranged by Rev Nev. His first assignment, perhaps by choice, cuts him off from his friends as he struggles to conform and deem himself worthy of his new life. The eventual move to Grantchester sets him up in the life we have come to admire.

Fans of the books (Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love, 2017, etc.) and the popular PBS series will find very little mystery but much to delight them in this often moving look at how life’s difficult decisions are made.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-63557-058-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2019


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