The Return Of Captain John Emmett Hardcover – 4 Mar 2010
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** 'If you like to kick back with some very high-class literary wallowing, 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 . . . Speller offers a fast-paced literary thriller . . . This is a remarkable piece of storytelling . . . Eq (FINANCIAL TIMES)
** 'An erudite and engrossing thriller . . . A multi-layered labyrinth of secrets convene in this taught, tense but richly sensitive story, which will fascinate you from page one (EASY LIVING)
** 'Covering death, poetry, a bitter regimental feud and a hidden love affair, it's set to be the new BIRDSONG - only better (INDEPENDENT)
* London, just after WW1, but the men and women caught up in the battle have not yet found peace - shadows and secrets remain. This is the launch of an absorbing new storytellerSee all Product description
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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.
Not so very much of WWI days as the following years, only a few flashbacks. This dense, focussed, labyrinthine, tangled novel is undoubtedly clever, written with great style and impressive vocabulary. Not for the faint hearted though as it is 440 pages of tricky detective work on the behalf of war hero Laurence, his bluff pal Charles and helpers Eleanor and William Bolitho.
Called upon to find comfort and reason behind an apparent suicide, Laurence does his British best to help Mary Emmett, the victim's sister, while suffering pangs of attraction towards her following his sad widowing by lost Louise in labour with a son who also died. Grim days indeed.
The romance of the war poets and their powerful influence decorates the pages and spins the tortured tale ever deeper into the realms of newly recognised illness, shell shock; patriotism, the ignorance of those left behind and the general unsuitability of some chaps for soldiering.
I found it a slight struggle; taking an unusually for me long time to read - I didn't actually love it all as much as I would have hoped. However I am happy to try the next in the series as it were, knowing the background of the main characters will probably help to involve me more from the outset.
I was immediately hooked by the mystery and you do find yourself racing through the pages to find a solution as to why Captain John Emmett committed suicide and why particular characters were named as beneficiaries in his will. The further the plot developed, the more interesting this became as the mystery evolved into something more multi-faceted. I didn't feel that the story was at all too contrived and one of the strengths of the story is that differing accounts of particular events around which this novel is centred seem to offer all sorts of possibilities that will guarantee to keep you guessing until the very end. The mystery was well constructed in my opinion.
However, I would point out a few reservations. There is almost too much attention to period detail and some characters like Charles seem to be cliches. Parts of the book sometimes seem a bit corny. I don't think that this book is quite the emotional tour de force the publishers would make out and although the subject matter is ultimately quite dark, it is a fairly light read. There is very little in this book that would be likely to cause offence such as bad language or violence. I polished the book off in a matter of days as I was so anxious to find what lay behind the ultimate truth.
Upon reflection, it is strange that despite there being a distinct lack of action with the story being effectively limited to the hero conducting numerous interviews or meetings with suspects, witnesses and others who may turn out to be included to lead you on a false trail, the whole effort is very, very gripping. The other curious thing is that one of the strongest and most vivid characters in the story is only encountered in recollection and we don't get to meet this person in the flesh - a shame as he is a repugnant villain!
In summary, I would certainly read the work of this authoress again but would stress this this is very much a popularist effort and not the successor to Sebastian Faulkes as suggested. In my opinion, it made a good read when waiting for my train or in the restaurant when I was on holiday. However, it would definately make a cracking film.