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The Return Of Captain John Emmett [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Speller
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1920. The Great War has been over for two years, and it has left a very different world from the Edwardian certainties of 1914.

Following the death of his wife and baby and his experiences on the Western Front, Laurence Bartram has become something of a recluse. Yet death and the aftermath of the conflict continue to cast a pall over peacetime England, and when a young woman he once knew persuades him to look into events that apparently led her brother, John Emmett, to kill himself, Laurence is forced to revisit the darkest parts of the war. As Laurence unravels the connections between Captain Emmett's suicide, a group of war poets, a bitter regimental feud and a hidden love affair, more disquieting deaths are exposed. Even at the moment Laurence begins to live again, it dawns on him that nothing is as it seems, and that even those closest to him have their secrets . . .

Product Description


'The new BIRDSONG - only better' --INDEPENDENT

'This fabulously enjoyable novel has absolutely everything. Speller's writing is gorgeous, her research immaculate and very lightly worn. Sheer bliss' --Kate Saunders, THE TIMES

`With its portrait of a war-blighted nation, Elizabeth Speller's gripping first novel shares territory with Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy . . . This is a remarkable piece of storytelling . . . Equally impressive is Speller's portrait of a fearful and class-ridden England after the armistice' --FINANCIAL TIMES

Book Description

* London, just after WW1, but the men and women caught up in the battle have not yet found peace * 'Covering death, poetry, a bitter regimental feud and a hidden love affair, it's set to be the new BIRDSONG - only better' INDEPENDENT

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1062 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (7 April 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004UFTWJ6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #125,825 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Elizabeth Speller lived in Berlin, Rome and Paris before reading Classics at Cambridge. She has written for publications as varied as the Independent, Big Issue, TLS and Vogue and has taught at the universities of Cambridge, Birmingham and Bristol. She currently has a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at Warwick and divides her life between Gloucestershire and Greece. Her first novel was THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN JOHN EMMETT which was followed by THE STRANGE FATE OF KITTY EASTON.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mystery rooted in the Great War 23 May 2011
"In years to come, Laurence Bartram would look back and think that the event that really changed his life was not the war or the attack at Rosières, nor even the loss of his wife, but the return of Captain John Emmett ..."

Laurence Bartram is one of many whose lives were changed forever by the Great War. He endured the horrors of the Western Front, but he lost his wife in childbirth.After the war he had no need to work and no purpose. He became reclusive, staying at home, writing a book that he knew he would never finish.

But then he received a letter from somebody that he remembered well, even though he hadn't seen her for years: Mary, the sister of his school-friend, John Emmett. Why, she wonders, did her brother survive the war only to kill himself? Can Lawrence, the only friend her brother ever brought home from school, help her to understand?

Laurence is drawn to Mary and he accepts her commission. It leads him into a complex mystery, and involving - without giving too much away - the nursing home where Emmett was a patient, a group of war poets, and a horrific wartime incident.

The mystery is clever and well structured, but it is rather too reliant on coincidences. And one or two things felt rather contrived. But I could forgive this book those failings. The important things are in it favour.

The story revealed was so powerful, and had so much to say about the strengths and weaknesses of humanity, the burden of knowledge, the horrors of war, and the iniquities of the class system.

Elizabeth Speller's write beautifully and is a fine storyteller. She has clearly done her research and, through the testimony of her characters, time, place and emotions come to life so vividly.

Those characters, lightly sketched, have faded from my mind, but their stories and their emotions have stayed with me. And those stories and emotions speak not just for those characters but for a generation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying read with a solid ending 19 Jan. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I was a bit dubious when I picked up this book. According to The Independent, this novel is `the new `Birdsong' - only better'. And I really enjoyed `Birdsong' so felt this gave Speller's book high expectations. Suffice to say, it took me a while to get into the pace of the novel and I found myself only really beginning to enjoy the mystery after I had read the first one hundred pages.

This is a good mystery that does not drown in historical fact. Whilst the mystery focuses on the First World War, there are plenty of elements to the novel that make this an enjoyable read. I did find it quite comical that Laurence seems to get so much information from his friend, Charles, and felt that at times, the whole process could be sped up if Laurence simply continued to interview his friend! But, it is as if Speller realised this and introduced more characters into the mix who seemingly could provide more ambiguous clues to the mystery surrounding John Emmett's apparent suicide.

Whilst I did find the investigations a little exhausting, I couldn't help but suspect each character that Laurence met in his quest for the truth. The scenes with Chilvers and son I found rather chilling, imagining the treatment carried out at the veterans hospital. Disappointingly, this did just become a product of my over-active imagination and I wonder whether Speller could have expanded this part of the plot a little more to add further substance to the story.

So, is this book like `Birdsong'? Personally, I don't think so. Few flashbacks in first person mean that readers are relying on character versions of events which fuel the mystery that Laurence is investigating. Whilst it provides an insight into WWI, I think Speller's offering demonstrates the wide-spread effect one event can have on so many people. Overall, I think that this is a good read with a satisfying ending that answers all of your questions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy addition to the WWI fiction genre 23 Oct. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent - I suspect that the next few years will bring a rash of WWI based books but this is certainly a good opener. The book centres on the apparent suicide of Captain Emmett in the months after his return from war. Laurence Bartram is asked by Emmett's sister to investigate why his schoolfriend killed himself - Bartram is himself deeply disturbed by the war & the loss of his family whilst he was away and this project gives him a focus as the apparent suicide is revealed to be much more complex. it should be said that the suicide is the hook to hang the novel on, it isn't really a why / who dunnit, its a historical novel which contains a mystery.
Bartram's investigations bring him into contact with many characters who all reveal different aspects of the horrors that followed WWI. It reminds us that this was a world that had no idea how to deal with the returnees even those who appeared unscarred let alone the physically & psychologically damaged. It isn't unremittingly grim though and offers, for Bartram at least, the possibility of a new life. It is reasonably even handed, the author doesn't neglect the effect of the war on women both those who stayed at home and those who served as nurses etc. I docked it one star because I thought that it could have benefited from tighter editing - its quite a long book and it occasionally felt stretched. If you like Pat Barker's books or Faulke's Birdsong then you'll probably like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what it's hailed to be! 27 Feb. 2012
As a "fan" of all things World War 1 - from Birdsong to Blackadder - this book was a little disappointing. The plot was good but was tediously drawn out although the execution of Edmund Hart and Laurence's own flash back towards the end of the book were well written and very moving. There were too many coincidences and chance meetings for my liking and the last chapter just seemed to fizzle out - epilogue was good though!
My biggest problem with the book was, however, not the author, or the characters or the plot but the "picture" on the front cover and the "review" on the front cover from "The Independant"!!
Surely the clothing, particularly on the woman, is wrong for the era????!!!! A minor point I know but it really irritated me!

And "The Independant" called this book - The new Birdsong, only better. NO NO NO! The plot cannot be in anyway compared to Birdsong, the writing is not of the same standard, the characters do not capture the reader in the way Stephen, Jack Firebrace,Wier, Isabelle, Elizabeth etc capture you and make you care.

Back to this book - it's OK. Good job for a debut and worth a read but don't expect too much from it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by m g hammon
4.0 out of 5 stars The nearly new copy from The Perfect Used Book Store was a paper back...
The nearly new copy from The Perfect Used Book Store was a paper back but is in excellent condition. When I finally got this copy I read it avidly. Read more
Published 5 months ago by MRS DIANE WILSON
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read Thank you for writing it
Good atmosphere. Great story line and readable deep into the night. Well rounded and recommended. A good feel for post WW1 life.
Published 5 months ago by Teffy
5.0 out of 5 stars 1914-2014 100 years on.
I found this book to be a reminder of the horrors of war in those times, and cannot believe that mankind is still inflicting such horror on its fellow beings. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Terence Shoesmith
3.0 out of 5 stars ... this book as a holiday read and although I enjoyed the first half...
I bought this book as a holiday read and although I enjoyed the first half of the book I found it to be too long and I only felt drawn to the characters John Emmett and Byers, the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Margaret Knight
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly excellent!
Nearly excellent! A slow start to the novel but nevertheless, once Bartram starts unravelling the story behind the demise of captain John Emmet the tale gets more and more gripping... Read more
Published 10 months ago by H. Lacroix
5.0 out of 5 stars The failure of survival
For those that survived The First World War, coming home and readjusting was another battle that many were facing. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Jo D'Arcy
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling but strangely frustrating.
This book has much to recommend it - the clarity of the writing, the characterisation, the lovely descriptions - but... Ah yes, but. Read more
Published 12 months ago by MadCow
4.0 out of 5 stars Book club
Another book club read, I love war time novels and this one didn't disappoint, very enjoyable definitely recommend as a pool side read
Published 13 months ago by Anne-Marie Upton
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book.
This book was chosen by our book club - and every member of the group really enjoyed it. It was different, with a real in-sight into the effect World War One had on those who... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Susan B.
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