Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub date: 5 July 2011
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Laurence Bartram has come back relatively unscathed from the Great War. But personal tragedy and the aftermath of the war has caused him to turn inwards and give up on the world. But when he hears from the sister of an old friend asking him to find out why her brother, John Emmett, killed himself, he gets drawn into a strange investigation. Laurence teams up with his friend Charles (who has a huge network and an interest in detecting) and starts asking questions which get him some difficult answers.
While The Return of Captain John Emmett is a mystery, it also brings to light the horrors of war and the class differences that led to men getting different treatment for the same crime.
John Emmett and Laurence (Laurie) Bartram were close friends in school and the Emmetts were like a family to Laurie. But since then the two men have not been in touch. So when the attractive and persuasive Mary Emmett gets in touch with Laurence, he perhaps responds perhaps more out of selfishness than a need to help her.
John Emmett had a difficult war and was in a mental health institution at the time of his death being treated for shell shock. While the police had ruled his death a suicide (and nothing contradicts this conclusion) Mary wants to understand: why? By all accounts John was getting better and she doesn’t know what changed. When she finds that John had also bequeathed large sums of money to strangers, her curiosity grows.
Laurence Bartram is an unlikely detective – initially reluctant to take on the task and only convinced by his lingering attraction for Mary. Once he stumbles across some cover-ups and secrets, he is convinced that he needs to get to the bottom of the mystery even when he finds himself in danger. The mystery itself is gripping with many different versions, witnesses who hold back information, red herrings and more dead bodies surfacing.
The Return of Captain John Emmett deals with the many horrors of war the aftermath of it. Those who have experienced it are bonded together by their horrors. And those who were left behind can never understand it entirely. But for all of them it was a time of great loss.
While Laurence has to go into the depths of human fear, guilt and self-loathing, Speller manages to instill quite a few light moments. Charles’ dauntless energy and insistence on helping Laurence is really sweet. His interest in detective novels also adds an air of fun to this otherwise depressing task. And there are many nods to Dame Christie and the era of the golden detective novels.
This is a mystery with a lot of depth and heart. I will definitely be looking forward to Elizabeth Speller’s next work.
Highly recommended for fans of detective fiction who like their mysteries with a little meat on the bones.
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