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The Return of Captain John Emmett

(Laurence Bartram #1)

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  2,918 ratings  ·  488 reviews
“Intriguing . . . a captivating wartime whodunit.” –Boston Globe

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 th–Boston
Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 26th 2012 by Mariner Books (first published March 1st 2010)
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Average rating 3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,918 ratings  ·  488 reviews

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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
Jul 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah...The Return of Captain John'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 sur
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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 tha

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 I thought that the time and sconnections—
May 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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 se
Aug 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nikki Marshall
Jan 23, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 29, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 cou
Lexie Conyngham
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The setting and the plot were very good, though this was not really a detective story - facts seem to find the main character, rather than the other way around. But I loved the characters and felt the post-war background was very convincing. I believe this might be the first in a series so I must investigate - I'd very much like to spend another book or so with Bartram and Charles.
Millie Thom
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A satisfying read with a solid ending:

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 hist
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-historical
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
Dec 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 acqu
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I confess to an affection for the melancholy mood of post-WWI and a gnawing feeling that if only I learn enough about it, that war will become more comprehensible and less senseless. Speller's crawling but enticing mystery, investigated by the world-weary but somewhat innocent Laurence with the help of his friend Charles, is most interesting in capturing the mood of those who survived the war with various visible and invisible hurts. Captain John Emmett's sister Mary, longing to understand her b ...more
Jun 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mary Ronan Drew
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

To read my review go to my blog at:

Rohase Piercy
Jun 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I quickly became engrossed in this pitch-perfect tale of shell-shock, accountability and retribution in the aftermath of WWI. The central character, Laurence Bartram, is vividly drawn and sympathetic and the other characters sharply observed through his eyes. After following the thread through many twists and turns and a veritable tankful of red herrings, the denouement came rather abruptly - or so I thought - it's only right at the end that you realise the real denouement is much more subtle, w ...more
Lynne Perednia
Aug 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 wond
Judith Starkston
Elizabeth Speller joins mystery writers like Jacqueline Winspear in setting her story immediately after World War I, filled with characters fractured by the Great War and trying to pick up the pieces. This debut novel has everything you want in a good mystery: well-developed characters you can’t predict, suspense, love, and twists. It also takes a new approach that works.

Unlike most mysteries in which the “detective” has special training and skills that draw him or her to solving cri
Jodie "Bookish"  Cook
Book Reviewcaptain

Title: The Return of Captain John Emmett

Author: Elizabeth Speller

Genre: Romance/Historical/War

Rating: ***

Review: The mood of London in 1920 reflected not only relief at the end of a devastating war but a psychological hangover that afflicted many who fought in it. In “The Return of Captain John Emmett,” Elizabeth Speller has captured the darkness of the era in a poignant prologue describing villagers gathered in darkne
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

"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 particular
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 a p ...more
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, historical
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
I was drawn to this book because it is set in the very early 1920s, when Britain was dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. It's the first book in a series featuring Laurence Bartram, an officer in the War and a widower, who's having a bit of trouble settling to civilian life. When the sister of a school friend writes to him asking for help, Laurence agrees out of a sense of obligation for past kindnesses. John Emmett, who was being treated for what we'd now call PTSD, had unexpectedly com ...more
Apr 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 t
Deborah Swift
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'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
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 08, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book, 2012
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,
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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

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