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on 23 February 2014
This was a real page turner, and I thought that the descriptions of WW1 horrors were very well described. I chose it because the reading group of which I am a member chose it. But it fell apart towards the end. It was a sort of detective story and there were far too many coincidences. And even after the killer was discovered and his motives ascertained, the book continued for about 50 unnecessary pages. All the same, the positive aspects far outweighed the negative ones, hence 4 stars.
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on 3 May 2017
Recommended well written believable story
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on 24 August 2013
Great story, strong plotlines and well written, would definately pick up this author again. Surprised by some of the home truths of this era.
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on 19 May 2017
Very much liked this book, thought it was very well written. I liked the harking back to that era, and I liked her characters, even the killer. In short, I liked Elizabeth Speller's writing so much that I then bought 'The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton'. I hope she'll continue the Bartram series.
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on 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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on 28 February 2016
Good engrossing read. Very well written. Recommend
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on 27 February 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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on 19 January 2014
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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on 23 October 2013
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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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2011
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.

We are given insights into the thoughts and emotions of a First World War soldier and we learn what it was like to be part of a firing squad. The War Poets are also touched upon, and so are the loyalties and friendships formed in British public schools.

Due to the subject and setting, the book had a sombre and depressing feel, yet I found myself really enjoying it. As the mystery surrounding John Emmett's death became more and more complex and involved, I was completely drawn into Laurence Bartram's investigations. The plot relies quite heavily on coincidences in places, but not so much that it spoiled the story for me at all. I loved it and will definitely be looking out for more novels from Elizabeth Speller!
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