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The Return of Captain John Emmett
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The Return of Captain John Emmett (Laurence Bartram #1)

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3.66 of 5 stars 3.66  ·  rating details  ·  2,011 ratings  ·  390 reviews
London, 1920. In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram has turned his back on the world. But with a well-timed letter, an old flame manages to draw him back in. Mary Emmett’s brother John—like Laurence, an officer during the war—has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veterans’ hospital, and Mary needs to know ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published July 5th 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published March 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sue
This book feels so much of the time about which it is written, the years immediately after World War I, in an England trying to deal with the terrible loss of so many young men as well as the wounding and continuing suffering of so many others. The story involves the circumstances surrounding the death of a troubled war veteran who had been hospitalized with a question of "nerves". Why would he have killed himself? The family wants to know. They turn to another former soldier, himself with menta ...more
Felice
Ah...The Return of Captain John Emmett...it's a little bit Maisie Dobbs a little bit Ian Rutledge, a little bit Regeneration triliogy with a dash of the for God and country innocence and awakening of R.F. Delderfield. It has an intriguing start followed by weak plotting but I still enjoyed it very much. It's not trashy at all so it doesn't count as guilty pleasure but I am a bit stymied by how much I liked it given what a pedestrian novel it is.


Captain Emmett has managed to survive World War One
...more
Jane
“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 kn
...more
Pamela
In the aftermath of WWI, Mary Emmett asks Laurence Bartram to investigate the apparent suicide of her brother John. Impelled by an old attraction towards Mary, and the boredom of his current life, Laurence finds himself delving deeply into a series of unexplained incidents during the war and the conduct of those running a home for soldiers affected by the stress of combat. In doing this, he uncovers hidden secrets and becomes aware of how little he knew about the man who was once his school frie ...more
Liviu
Excellent historical fiction with a mystery tinge; taking place several years after the end of the Great War and dealing with the effects on it on various characters, both survivors and families of dead soldiers.

The storyline seems simple: Laurence Bartram who returned whole physically but crushed mentally from the war, though not because of the events he participated in but because of tragedy home, is approached by the young sister of his best school friend John Emmett who took a semi-orphan La
...more
Veronica
I really enjoyed reading this book, and it was heading for four stars until I got to chapter 36, when it abruptly dropped at least half a star. "The new Birdsong -- only better" claims a quote from The Independent on the cover. Ridiculous. Of course they address many of the same themes, but this book is completely different from Birdsong and can't sensibly be compared with it.
(view spoiler)
...more
Millie Thom
I found this book to be very enjoyable and very well researched, and I particularly liked Elizabeth Speller's writing style. Though perhaps a litttle slow-moving at times, especially in the opening section, the eventual mystery is intriguing, thought provoking and extremely moving. The characters are well developed, notably that of the main character, Laurence Bartram, but also others such as Mary Emmett and Charles Carfax.

The story is set in London, three years after the end of the Great War, w
...more
Ruth
C2010. FWFTB: 1920, war, investigate, sister, letter. Whoah – this was an enthralling read. From the first page, I was drawn in and hardly came up for air until I finished the book. I usually stay away from books about the Great War, as along with many many others, relatives of mine were not to survive this ‘war to end all wars’ or, if they did, it influenced the rest of their lifetimes. Echoes of this war are heard and shadows seen almost every day thanks to the memorials that grace every villa ...more
Lynn
I really wanted to like this book, and some of it I did. Speller's evocation of the world during and after WW1 was really quite strong. She seems to understand well how people are damaged by war, and the ways people try and sometimes fail to cope with the horrors they experience. It reminded me of The Postmistress in that way. (Both strong in history but weaker in fiction.)

Her main character, though, was a bit dim. He did have a sparky friend in Charles and some finely drawn new acquaintances in
...more
Elizabeth

This enjoyable read is now fading from my memory and I fear I’ll no longer be able to do it justice in a review. It’s not flawless in terms of plot - there are, I think, just too many threads woven into the mystery, and certainly too many coincidental meetings and connections—especially the climactic appearance of the One Who Dunnit at exactly the right (or wrong?) moment. And then there seemed to be an editorial error as he greeted the protagonist not by his own name but by someone else’s!

But
...more
Nikki Marshall
Having listed this book initially as two-star, I have since degraded it to one. The only reason I finished it was because of my determination to get through my book challenge.

There were parts that I liked, Speller has a lovely way of recreating the world as it was left after the devastation of the first world war and I loved learning about things that I hadn't known had happened during the war, however I still feel like I don't quite know what the book was about.

First of all, something that is
...more
Suzie Grogan
Well - what to say. Would i recommend this book? I wanted to know what happened next; it is about shell shock and the mental torment of soldiers in the Great War, a subject I am very interested in. But I can only give it 3 stars because, quite honestly, it was ultimately predictable and unsatisfying to a certain degree - caused I think by lengthy explanations of events and motives by characters other than the lead that made it a little plodding in places.

It was as if the author let her characte
...more
Karen
Beautifully written historical fiction with a mystery twist. 1920's London and this author writes so well your on The Strand walking with the characters in the book. She does a excellent job of describing the horrors of The Great War and the damaged people thereafter. I just now realized this is Book #1...yeah more of this great author to come.
Trish
A schoolboy’s scarf, a hair clasp, and an old photograph are practically all that remain of a young soldier’s life when he returns to Britain after the war. His family and his neighbors all suspect that even his sanity is lost. Captain John Emmett’s younger sister contacts Laurence, John’s old school chum, after John’s death, apparently by suicide, to see if Laurence can tell her why young Emmett had to die. The author, Elizabeth Speller, does a good job with this material. She manages to evoke ...more
Elaine
This was a very promisng debut novel, from this talented author. Starting with the negatives.......far too many coincidences in the plot to make it beliveable. Whilst I happily suspend belief when reading, too many coincidences are irriatating, and detract from the plot. Granted a certain amout of coincidence was necessary to move the plot along, but at times this bordered on the absurd-and there was no need for it as the author clearly has a vivid enough imagination.

But other than that, it was
...more
Teresa
Laurence Bartram is asked by the sister of a friend if he can look into and explain why her brother committed suicide. What seems like a simple story, young man comes home from the trenches of WWI suffering from shell-shock and cannot cope with civilian life, becomes more and more complicated. It moves effortlessly into becoming a murder mystery.

This book started out as a 5* story for me but about 2/3 of the way through it became over complicated and top heavy. Too many coincidences, too much un
...more
Leni
I thought this was a wonderful book because I found the story very interesting. Being a psychotherapist I am always interested in what makes a person tick and I also love English books set in The War areas (basically pre-war and just post for both wars). AT first it seemed a little slow and yet I was not quite ready to dismiss it so I kept on going slowly and then I did not want to let go. The characters were three dimensional as the story went along-at least the main ones-and I really enjoyed t ...more
Deborah Swift
'The Return of Captain John Emmett' tells the story of an incident during the Great War. Laurence Bartram, himself consumed by grief at the loss of his wife and young son, is approached by a friend's wife to unravel the mystery of why he committed suicide. His investigations lead to the gradual piecing-together of an army execution. Similar to a detective mystery, most of the action is told by reports from characters who were at the scene, very much like examining the scene of a crime. In the no ...more
Ali

"The Return of Captain John Emmett" is an excellent mystery, the twists and turns and surprising revelations come thick and fast. The sort of book which can keep you reading far into the night, and regret having to go to work. However, excellent mystery that this is, it is more than just another historical mystery. The novel also faithfully explores the realities of the aftermath of war, the effect upon a country and it's people.

As Laurence Bartram delves into the life and particularly the war o
...more
Jennifer
So - a brooding mystery set after WWI - precisely the kind of thing that engenders me to enjoy this book. And I did (though it's probably more of a 3 1/2 star). Anyway, what I liked:

First, the characterizations were right on. The main character, Laurence, reminded me a bit of Ian Rutledge, except he's not seeing/talking to ghosts. He's definitely a man damaged but not destroyed by the war, and I also liked that he was not trained as a detective and could make mistakes. I would argue that the oth
...more
Lynne Perednia
The end of World War I was a traumatic time for Britain, even though they won. Hundreds of thousands of men died, and more than a million came back wounded. Family dynamics changed, the roles of women changed, everyone who survived sought ways to carry on and cope with a world that had changed around them. At the same time, the Golden Age in mystery fiction began.

Elizabeth Speller brings all of these elements together in her debut novel, The Return of Captain John Emmett. It's a wonderful story
...more
Daisy
I savoured this book, taking time to read and take in every word so that I wouldn't feel confused at the great reveal. I thought I had grasped all the characters, but the plot shifted frequently so that key people were exposed as more than or not what they seemed.

The tone, setting and construction of the story was well done and I felt myself fully immersed in the time period. The writing gave me a real feel for post-war Britain and the after effects of the war on the country and those living wi
...more
Jane
I really enjoyed the first 300 pages of The Return of Captain John Emmett. Unfortunately, the book is 436 pages long. The development of the main character, Laurence Bartram, and his friend Charles, along with the historical details about the Great War, were interesting. Around page 300, however, I wished the plot would speed up a bit. Then the "mystery" was quickly resolved in a great rush of explanation. Just when I thought the book was over, I found there were a couple more chapters adding in ...more
Marleen
Honestly, I looked forward reading this one because I thought this was going to my sort of book. Man returns from the First World War to investigate the death of a friend from his youth. And I have to admit I thought the book cover was superb and that added to the anticipation.
Well, this book started out interestingly enough, and - overall - it’s well written; but ultimately I thought it was quite slow and dull, and I had to make a huge effort to go through all the flashbacks, which of course ar
...more
Elaine
An excellent recounting of the horror of war, but especially the specific horror of the Great War.

I found myself getting some of the many characters confused (especially those who were only referred to, rather than actually "appearing" in the story), and had to glance back a couple of times to remind myself exactly who was who.

The mystery element was well written and I didn't guess "whodunnit". In fact I wasn't completely convinced there was a "dunnit" until the final revelation, which was very
...more
Candy Barron
I started this book thinking of it as a historical novel, set at the end of World War I, but came to find it is also a mystery, and the first of a series with the same main character. I have already begun the next, and only other, book in the series, "The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton." I hope there will be more to come.
Dawn
I love mysteries set in WWI and one with a physiological aspect had to be read.
The damage of war is not always in the physical wounds but the emotional and mental wounds that were not understood by either the medical field or the friends and family at home. The author does a wonderful job of portraying this in the story and most especially in the main character of John Emmett.
The mystery wasn't stunning though it was an integral and vital part of the story. The conclusion of this story took far
...more
Jeanette
This is more like a 2.5 but not for me. Although it does encompass the dichotomy of sufferings, life long and also terribly physical, from WWI (and especially to questions of loyalty as much as societal sensibility in reaction)- it becomes hard to follow. Actually Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series does it even slower, but so much better in context, IMHO.
Julia
Laurence Bartram is living in London in 1920 and coming to terms with the death of his wife and son while he was away fighting in France. He receives a letter from Mary, the sister of Laurence's old school friend John Emmett. John had also fought in WW1, returning with shell shock, but appeared on the mend when he abruptly killed himself. Mary is hoping that Laurence can help her to understand why, and so he initiates an investigation into the final years of John Emmett's life.

Where this novel w
...more
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Elizabeth Speller is a poet and author of four non-fiction books including a biography of Emperor Hadrian, companion guides to Rome and to Athens, and a memoir, Sunlight on the Garden. She has contributed to publications as varied as the Financial Times, Big Issue and Vogue and produced the libretto for a requiem for Linda McCartney, Farewell, composed by Michael Berkeley (OUP). She currently has ...more
More about Elizabeth Speller...

Other Books in the Series

Laurence Bartram (2 books)
  • The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton
The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton The First of July: A Novel Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire The Sunlight on the Garden: A Memoir of Love, War and Madness Granta City Guides: Rome (Granta City Guides)

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