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…
So this book is primarily a historical romance novel with a little bit of a speculative element to it but I’m going to review it here anyway because it’s a lovely book and maybe it’ll catch someone’s interest. 🙂
Rufus is the main character here and the story revolves around him and his journey to a small English village to investigate the local church–a job that is far below his fame in the archaeological world but better than getting fired after he inadvertently attacks a colleague while on a dig. So there are several threads running through this book — Rufus and his journey of recovery from the war and the mystery of what he can’t remember but that which is obviously haunting him, the mystery of the church and how it ties in with not only the history of Droyton but its present day inhabitants, Archie and his journey of self-discovery. Overall this is a story of healing and love, those themes are repeated throughout the book with the main plot and sub-plots involving both the main characters and side characters.
Like almost all books that I wind up loving, the main attraction here is the characters. Both Rufus and Archie are such lovingly crafted characters. Archie is so optimistic, even though he’s not been living his full life he’s still managed to find the good in other people and the places he inhabits. There may be an underlying sadness but it’s not something he lets himself give in to. He finds great joy in caring for others and helping those in need. I think in part because he recognizes that perhaps he could have used someone like that in his own life when he was younger, someone to look out for him without judging him. So of course his home is filled with strays of all sorts who come and go, people who have problems with no one to turn to or people who just settled in and want to make a house into a home. I think we’d all be lucky to have someone like Archie in our lives–the world would be a much better place for sure.
It’s also easy enough to see why Archie was quite happy to form a bond with Rufus so quickly as Rufus has a lot of healing to do. He’s sent to Droyton on a job, yes, but it’s more than just that. He needs a refuge, and that’s what he finds at the parsonage with all its myriad inhabitants, but also with Archie. It takes a while for Rufus to start coming out of his shell and letting his guard down, but it was wonderful to read such a great character arc. I love stories that showcase someone healing from some great hurt, it feels so hopeful.
Like I said earlier, there are lots of little threads of story within this book that all tie up nicely together in the end. I really appreciate the way the author wove all of these things together. I also really loved the way the speculative elements were put in. It’s a long while into the book before you think ‘what’s the deal with that?’ and then something else slightly odd creeps up but you put it down as ‘well that can be explained away’ but eventually some things happen that can’t be explained as anything other than ‘magic’. I love how the main characters just seem to go with this and accept it as well.
Overall, I really loved this book. I appreciated the way the story was told and the characters were written with great depth. 4.5/5 stars.