Seven Summer Nights – Harper Fox
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.
He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.
It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.
It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun…
Seven Summer Nights is a standalone novel featuring a disgraced archaeologist and an atheist vicar. The story could be split into two. One thread follows Rufus’ struggle with PTSD, his endearing friendship with Archie, Archie’s rescue and Rufus and Archie’s awakening.
That rescue scene in particular had me crossing my fingers and praying really hard for Rufus and Archie. Theirs was one of the most wholesome relationship I have seen so far and a delightful combination of insta-love and slow-burn. They were so kind to each other from the beginning, there was never any moment of unnecessary drama between them. The second thread was archaeology and witch craft. From the island of Sabros to the rural village of Droyton, mysterious labyrinth and mysterious women kept their secrets for centuries. Rufus and Archie uncovered these mysteries to reveal tragedy and bloodshed. But even with the cruelties, the book was overflowing with kindness and humanity. I felt sad that Archie had to give up his post. He was one of the kindest, most humane persons I have ever come across with.
Women were one of the most significant aspects of the book. I love the rest of the cast. Mrs. Nettles, the level headed, very practical housekeeper, Drusilla, the mystical priestess, Elspeth, the precocious changeling, even the difficult Mrs. Trigg. Together, they form a sort of network or sisterhood that went back to millennia before Christianity and patriarchy took over. The antagonists were effective as well. I felt a significant amount of schadenfreude when that ass of a brigadier had his Wizard of Oz-like comeuppance.
Clocking at around 16 hours, the book was, admittedly, a tad too long but god was it beautiful! At the hands of another, less talented writer, the pace might have been called glacial but Harper Fox imbued the story with so much charm and appeal that I was swept along its languid pace. That summertime ambiance, the easy camaraderie, the small town quaintness, I was effortlessly transported to post-war rural Sussex. Living in a small rural town myself, I could easily relate to both the simple, hospitable, kind-heartedness and the religious narrow mindedness of small town folks.
I also have a special shout out to the narrator. Chris Clogg’s calm, measured delivery and the voices he created for the characters were perfect, especially Rufus’ mild-mannered, very polite and proper Englishman tone.
I think Seven Summer Nights is one of Harper Fox’s best books. Soft, surreal and pure with tight, suspenseful episodes that left me on the edge of my seat. I am not familiar with any archaeological expeditions of the 1940s so I am not sure how close to the facts the details are, but the mystery combined with the romance, post-war struggles and archaeological adventures make a potent brew.
4.5 – perfection is only half a step away