Narrated by Chris Clog
Harper Fox’s Seven Summer Nights is a book that’s been recommended to me on several occasions, so when I saw it had been released in audio, I picked it up straight away as audio is my preferred method of ‘getting around to’ books I can’t find time to read in print. I admit to being a little wary given that narrator Chris Clog is not someone I’m familiar with, but it was obvious after the first few minutes of the listen that I was in very safe hands; he’s an excellent performer and I enjoyed every moment of this sixteen-plus-hours audiobook in terms of the story and the narration.
The story is a fabulous mix of romance and mystery with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure that takes place around a year after the end of World War Two in a typically bucolic English village in Sussex. Well-known archaeologist Dr. Rufus Denby has been struggling to keep himself together in both body and mind since the end of the war, in which he’d served as a captain in the army and been decorated for his bravery. Haunted by terrible events he can no longer remember, Rufus is subject to sudden and uncontrollable outbursts of violence he can never recall afterwards; and he is at his first dig since the end of the war when something triggers an episode and he attacks one of his colleagues.
After a brief period in hospital, Rufus visits his boss at the Royal Museum, who very gently tells him that his employment has been terminated – and then suggests Rufus visits her cousin, the vicar of a small village in Sussex called Droyton Parva. Droyton’s late-medieval church is due for restoration, and the vicar would like any important archaeological features recorded before the work begins. Practically destitute, worn down, lonely and confused, Rufus makes his way there, but when, on arrival, the vicar is nowhere to be found, Rufus visits the church where he exhaustedly falls asleep in the choir loft – but not before recognising that the church does indeed hold a number of archaeologically significant artefacts and paintings.
The Reverend Archie Thorne spent the war as an army chaplain and now lives an energetic life among his parishioners – most of whom adore him – even though he lost his faith long ago. He’s warm, funny, open-hearted… and like Rufus, rather lonely; he keeps himself busy shepherding his flock, making sure the church isn’t falling apart, has a habit of taking in the local waifs and strays – and sneaking off every so often to work on his motorbike and have a quick smoke (which, owing to a lung condition he isn’t supposed to do!)
The moment Archie sets eyes on tired, troubled Rufus, he recognises a kindred spirit and longs to add him to his motley crew of vicarage inmates, but Rufus, who is immediately attracted to the handsome, wonderfully gregarious Archie, prefers to remain aloof and out of the way of temptation. A past relationship gone very bad has served to strongly bring home the inherent dangers facing a man of his sexual preferences, and Rufus was so badly burned that he has resigned himself to a life without companionship and affection.
But Archie is not quite so circumspect, and despite the dangers inherent in falling for another man finds himself overwhelmingly attracted to Rufus. He’s rather charmingly clueless about romance and relationships; when Rufus finally does make a move, Archie’s enthusiasm is sweet and eager – sometimes to the extent that he forgets the importance of the need for discretion and Rufus has to rein him in. Village life continues apace as a moving, passionate romance develops between these two lovely, lonely men, but there is so much more to this novel than a love story. Archie and Rufus spend time together uncovering the mysteries hidden within the church, which may point to its having been a pre-Christian, pagan site, and there’s a third narrative concerning Rufus’ war-time experiences and the memories he has blocked out, which drives the story in a very different direction. It’s clear that whatever happened to Rufus was intensely traumatic, and the appearance in Droyton of his widowed sister and her authoritarian, obnoxious father-in-law marks the start of an increasingly tense, heart-wrenching bit of storytelling which had me on the edge of my seat. If Archie and Rufus had any doubts about the nature and strength of their feelings, these events irrevocably cement the truth of their deep love for one another.
Chris Clog is a new-to-me narrator and unless he’s using a pseudonym, he has only five titles to his name at Audible, all but one of them also by Harper Fox; and on the strength of his performance here, I will definitely be listening to him again. His pacing is just right, his voice is nicely modulated and pleasant to listen to, and his characterisations are extremely good. He captures the essence of Archie perfectly, a nicely resonant baritone depicting a big man with a big heart while the marginally higher pitch he adopts for Rufus serves to differentiate well between them and also helps to paint a vivid picture of the slighter man in the mind of the listener. All the secondary characters are clearly delineated, from the gruffly unpleasant tones of the Brigadier to the haughty, upper-crust tones of Lady Birch and the gently accented speech of the locals. He voices the women well, too – they’re not pitched too high or too low and are easily identifiable as female. It’s a very strong performance all round and there’s no question that Mr. Clog more than does justice to this extraordinary novel.
In Seven Summer Nights, Harper Fox has created an unusual and memorable story featuring two thoroughly likeable protagonists and a well-developed cast of secondary characters. The mystery surrounding the church draws inspiration from English folklore and is both magical and slightly creepy at the same time, and the romance at its heart is simply beautiful.
TITLE: Seven Summer Nights
AUTHOR: Harper Fox
NARRATED BY: Chris Clog
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox on Amazon