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The Return of Captain John Emmett by…

The Return of Captain John Emmett

by Elizabeth Speller

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3853327,939 (3.74)55

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Heartwarming and tragic. That is how I would describe the story that Ms. Speller has told in this book. Laurence Bartram is an officer from the First World War who managed to make it out of the "war to end all wars" with no visible injuries. But, as for so many that fought in this terrible war, he has experienced and seen things that he cannot ever forget, and he has lost so much, that it has left huge scars on his psyche. He is managing to exist and is trying to write a book on British churches, which helps him feel that he is keeping busy, but he feels that he really isn't any longer a contributing member in the post-war English society. Then a sister of an old school friend comes to him to ask him to look into the circumstances of the apparent suicide of her brother Captain John Emmett. Laurence is reluctant to come out of his self-imposed exile, but he does so because John Emmott was a close school friend and he hadn't seen or heard of him since many years before the war. As Laurence digs he finds long buried secrets and tragic occurrences that occurred on the western front. These secrets have caused much turmoil and unhappiness to the surviving members of those who had been involved in the unspeakable event. Laurence discovers that the secrets are what has been causing the death and destruction that he's uncovering in his investigation. This book is so complex. Not only is there an incredibly tricky mystery, but Ms. Speller so eloquently depicts the public and the private tragedies that result from any war. It's all too common, and still wars continue in this world, with no end in sight. They leave a truly horrible legacy, and destroy so many lives. But the book ends with a sense of hope, at least for Laurence. He begins to feel that he can get on with his life again. There is hope in the darkness. There is a sense of optimism that life can go on, even though it will never be the same. ( )
  Romonko | Jan 16, 2016 |
Laurence Bartram survived the Great War, but his experiences as a soldier and the death of his wife and infant son while he was at the front led him to retreat from the world once he returned home. When Mary Emmett, the sister of his old school friend John Emmett, writes to ask Laurence to help her uncover the reasons behind her brother's suicide, Laurence accepts. While Emmett's death seems straight forward on the surface it turns out it is anything but. Laurence's quest to find answers for Mary uncovers a web of wartime secrets linking Emmett to several men in his regiment who, since the end of the war, have been murdered. As his investigation continues, Laurence begins to question whether John's death really was a suicide or if it was part of something much more sinister. Along the way, Laurence must also confront his own wartime experiences and find a way to move forward with his own life.

The Return of Captain John Emmett is a well-written and engaging historical mystery, one that doesn't shy away from incorporating the horrors experienced by the men and women who fought in World War I. One of the greatest strengths of the novel is Speller's ability to capture the feelings and experiences of those who survived the war, whether they fought directly on the battlefields of Europe or remained at home worried about and waiting for love ones. Speller's story clearly shows that nobody who lived through the period of the Great War was untouched by it, and that, for many people, the war didn't end when the guns fell silent. The characters are well-developed and, since they are portrayed with both strengths and flaws, come across as authentic. The mystery component of this novel is intriguing and keeps the reader turning the pages. While a few minor elements of the mystery are easily solved before they are revealed, the principal storyline, that of John Emmett's death, remains a mystery until the very end.

The novel remained me in many respects of the first novel in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, titled Maisie Dobbs. As such, I highly recommend The Return of Captain John Emmett to fans of the Maisie Dobbs series, as well as fans of WWI-era historical fiction. ( )
  Melissa_J | Jan 16, 2016 |
Great debut novel... Combine Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge with Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti and add the vibrant background characters of a Louise Penny novel. ( )
  KateHonig | Jan 12, 2016 |
It’s 1920. A troubled war veteran, John Emmett of the title, commits suicide and his sister asks Laurence Bartram, fellow veteran and former school chum, to find out why. At first, Bartram is hesitant. He has his own demons and fears that looking into the death will just stir them up. But he soon finds himself intrigued, not by the mysterious death alone, but by John’s sister, Mary. His sometime Watson is his friend Charles, who tags along and uses his contacts to ferret out information.

They soon discover that Emmett’s death may not have been suicide. And that there are other suspicious deaths tied to a World War I battlefield tragedy.

Every time a new mystery comes out set in the years between the World Wars, some reviewer somewhere compares it to Jacqueline Winspear’s multi-award-winning Maisie Dobbs series. For the most part, the only thing similar is the time period in which it occurs. I’d put this book in that category.

Whereas Maisie’s stories always have comparatively light moments interspersed with the dark, The Return of Captain John Emmett is unremittingly dark. I don’t believe the characters are as absorbing, or the writing as polished as with Winspear’s books. Still, once the story got moving it was interesting enough to keep me engaged ‘til the end. ( )
  NewsieQ | May 21, 2015 |
Just started this book and although I am only 20 pages in and some might find it a bit of slow-starter, I am enjoying this work.

Gave up forty pages later. The enjoyable slow start turned into complete and utter drudgery.

Do not recommend. ( )
  autumnturner76 | Sep 22, 2014 |
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For my brother, Richard, and for my nephews Dominic, Tristan, William, Barnaby and Charlie, who, had they been born exactly one hundred years earlier, might all have found themselves on the Western Front.
You were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons,
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns.

Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh
(died Cambrai 1917)
First words
In years to come, Laurence Bartram would look back and think that the event that really changed everything was not the war, nor the attack at Rosieres, nor even the loss of his wife, but the return of John Emmett into his life.
They gathered in the dark long before the train arrived at the small station. (Prologue)
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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 ...
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Mary Emmett's brother John, an officer during the recently ended World War I, has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veterans' hospital, and Mary needs to know why. She contacts an old flame, Laurence Bartram, who has turned his back on the world to help her find answers.… (more)

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