"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.