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The Return Of Captain John Emmett Paperback – 7 Apr 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (7 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844086097
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844086092
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.9 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'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

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Format: Paperback
"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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Format: Hardcover
When Captain John Emmett returns from France at the end of World War I, his mother and sister are worried about his mental condition. John is suffering from shell-shock, which is causing him to become aggressive and violent. After spending some time in a nursing home, John escapes and is later found dead in a nearby wood. It is assumed that he committed suicide.

John's sister, Mary, contacts one of her brother's old school friends, Laurence Bartram, in the hope that he can help her discover what really happened to her brother. Why would a man who had survived the horrors of the war shoot himself two years later? As Laurence starts to investigate, he begins to wonder whether someone else was behind John's death.

The Return of Captain John Emmett is a fascinating story. It works well as a historical fiction novel, with its portrayal of the people of 1920s Britain coming to terms with the aftermath of World War I. But it's also a gripping psychological mystery in which Laurence Bartram reluctantly takes on the role of detective to investigate the circumstances surrounding his friend's death. There are clues, suspects, red herrings and all the other elements that make up a compelling and well-structured detective story.

The book is also an interesting and poignant study into the effects, both long-term and short-term, that the war had on individuals and their families. How people came back from the war an entirely different person to when they went away. How men dealt with the memories of the atrocities they witnessed. How their wives felt about the part of their husbands' lives that they had been unable to share. How people were left with physical disabilities and had to learn to adjust.
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Format: Hardcover
*Possible spoilers*

It is 1920 and while the war is over, London is still recovering. Laurence Bartram learns that a schoolfriend and fellow officer has shot himself and is asked by his sister to find out why. He uncovers a traumatic event that took pace during the war and soon realises that nearly everyone associated with it has been killed...

This is an odd book: it starts out well but then disintegrates into a rather run-of-the mill and overly melodramatic murder mystery that is completely not believable. The mix of bleak war memories with a murder-conspiracy type story sat very uneasily with me, and I felt the characters were too thin to really carry much weight.

There are lots of holes in the 'investigation' half of the story which involves huge coincidences, and an ending where the perpetrator simply decides to tell all even though there's no need.

The story involves lots of melodramatic devices including incest, illegitimate children, secret love affairs, hidden identities, sexual blackmail etc. but the narrative temperature remains cool rather than heated.

I found this disappointing and, like another reviewer, never found myself really gripped by this book. The central character of John Emmett had the makings of a fascinating man but the threads of the story never really got to grips with him, perhaps because it was just too busy with so much else going on.

For a far better read that centres on the court-martial and execution of a British soldier I would recommend A Whispered Name: A Father Anselm Novel, Book 3 (Father Anselm Novels) which has real moral weight and emotional depth. In comparison I'm afraid this book is just fluff masquerading as something classier.
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