James Runcie - The Road to Grantchester

Grantchester author James Runcie who is appearing at the Felixstowe Book Festival Photo: Kate Mount

Grantchester author James Runcie who is appearing at the Felixstowe Book Festival Photo: Kate Mount - Credit: Archant

Review: Grantchester author James Runcie at the Felixstowe Book Festival, Hotel Elizabeth, Saturday, June 29

Tall and fair-haired, James Runcie immediately apologised for not wearing a smart suit to address his (mainly female) audience... on the hottest day of the year so far.

He assured us he has some very nice suits but, on account of the heat, had opted for a white linen shirt.

Basking in the cool of the air-conditioning, the audience nodded its approval.

James Runcie is as entertaining to listen to as he is to read.

The son of former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, James has written a series of book revolvijng around his priestly hero Sidney Chambers, full time vicar and part-time crime solver.

The books have transferred to a popular ITV drama series, which originally starred James Norton, Robson Green (as the police detective) and Tessa Peake-Jones as Rev Chambers' housekeeper.

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His books are "more whydunit than whodunit" says Runcie whose novels are very much character led. There is no gathering the suspects together for a group denouement, as preferred by Agatha Christie.

Amiable and witty, with a very nice line in apposite quotes, Runcie is an engaging speaker with some laugh-out-loud anecdotes which he occasionally tells guiltily as if "I probably shouldn't be telling you this but...".

His life began in Cambridge and he and his family moved as his father progressed to bishop, then archbishop. As for James Runcie's beliefs, he says: "my own faith is a bit hazy... a bit Anglican and vague" although you do sense it very much matters to him.

The housekeeper in his books is Mrs Maguire and this is the only name that has crossed from real life into his books. Runcie describes how "Her husband left her and he was too scared to pick up his things so he sent the mistress to pick them up." The woman then had the temerity to ask Mrs Maguire what her errant husband liked for tea to which the scorned wife pithily replied with the brand name of a well-known household bleach.

The Grantchester novels span the period 1953 to 1978 and Runcie explains that beyond this year forensic science usurps the role of the amateur sleuth.

His new book, from which he read an extract, is The Road to Grantchester, a prequel in which we meet the younger Sidney Chambers before he comes to Cambridgeshire. It begins during the Second World War when he young Sidney finds himself involved in the bloody battle of Monte Cassino.