It took me twenty-four hours to get the chance to watch ITV's new period (1950s) detective show Grantchester, based on the books by James Runcie, son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. This was because I've been away on a trip to Oxford and the Cotswolds - and when I watched the show it reminded me, just as the trip did, of the loveliness of many parts of England. I visited Hidcote, a National Trust gem that is home to one of the country's finest gardens (amazing to see such a profusion of colour among the flowers, not just the autumn leaves, at this time of the year), and the market town of Chipping Campden, complete with a wonderful second hand bookshop, as well as the Congregation Hall in Oxford, a slice of history dating back to the fourteenth century and now converted to a vibrant cafe crammed with students.
Grantchester is set around Cambridge, not Oxford, but it blends many of the ingredients to be found in Endeavour and other popular detective shows - Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Marple and Father Brown spring to mind. It's genteel, rather than gritty, and though I'm not keen on the term 'cosy' as applied to crime fiction, it's hard to deny that this was a cosy show with a rural vicar as amateur sleuth, the sort of programme that you expect to find on a Sunday evening. Most of the reviews I've seen have been very positive, and I wonder if that reflects the same sort of interest in traditional detective fiction (perhaps coupled with a nostalgic yearning for the past) that has caused the British Library Crime Classics to become so successful.
It's hard to create a truly baffling TV whodunit that is over and done with in rather less than an hour, once commercial breaks are accounted for, but the story - about the supposed suicide of a rascally solicitor - was competently done. However, I suspect that Grantchester is less likely to succeed because of its story-lines than through the casting of James Norton as the vicar, Sidney Chambers. When last seen on TV, Norton was the convincingly psychopathic Tommy in Happy Valley; this role could scarcely be more different, and Norton's ability to excel in both roles demonstrates what a fine actor he is. The cast also includes Robson Green as Sidney's police inspector pal Geordie. They make an odd couple among sleuths, but I suspect that Grantchester will enjoy a lot of success.
Much as I love traditional detective fiction, I'm also keen on crime stories with a harder edge. Similarly, much as I like the chocolate-box prettiness of the Cotswolds, I also find less well-heeled places like Liverpool entrancing. For me, Happy Valley was a long way ahead of Grantchester as a TV drama because of its much greater originality. But that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy Grantchester. On the contrary, much of the enduring appeal of crime fiction is due to the fact that the genre is exceptionally diverse, and both shows are well-crafted, presenting a picture of different facets of English life at different times and in different parts of the country. It's perfectly possible to enjoy both noir and nostalgia..