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The Return of Captain John Emmett Hardcover – July 5, 2011

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My Struggle: Book Four
Eighteen-year-old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fishing village in the Arctic Circle to work as a school teacher. As the nights get longer, the shadow cast by his father's own sharply increasing alcohol consumption, also gets longer. Read the full description
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Editorial Reviews


"Laurence Bartram is a young widower grappling not only with the loss of his young wife and infant son but also with a return to normalcy after his service in World War I when he receives a letter from Mary Emmett, the sister of a boyhood friend, asking him to look into her brother’s supposed suicide. He is as intrigued by Mary herself as he is by her letter, and his investigations uncover a series of crimes and help Laurence confront his own horrendous memories of the war. An absorbing mystery set in postwar London, Speller’s literary debut is brimming with historical details of the period and doesn’t shy away from war’s atrocities. There are many references to British writers and poets that the average American reader may not be familiar with, and the myriad names of officers and soldiers may be confusing. VERDICT World War I history buffs will enjoy this mystery, as will fans of period pieces set in London. Readers who like Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series will enjoy this as well." [Previewed in M.M. Adjarian’s genre spotlight, "Dispatches from the Edge," <LJ 4/15/11.—Ed.] —Julie Pierce, Fort Myers–Lee County P.L., FL --Library Journal

"Elegant, engrossing read."--Publishers Weekly

"Elegantly written anti-war saga."--Kirkus

About the Author

The Return of Captain John Emmett is her first novel.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547511698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547511696
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,249,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Today we call it PTSD--post-traumatic stress disorder (and mystery lovers can get a good look at it in its present incarnation in Julia Spencer Fleming's latest Clare Fergusson/Russ VanAlstyne novel "One Was a Soldier"), but during the two World Wars of the 20th century it was called "shellshock." And too often the "treatment" was execution by firing squad.

The after-effects of one such incident are what put Capt. John Emmett in a veterans' hospital in 1920. Now, just as he seems to have been working his way back to some semblance of his old self, comes word that he has committed suicide. His sister Mary needs to know why and turns to the only friend of her brother's that she knows, Laurence Bartram, another British officer who's trying with not much success to create some sort of postwar life for himself --his wife and son died in childbirth while he was serving in France. Mary suspects that incompetence or something seriously amiss at the veterans' hospital may be at the root of it and asks Laurence to investigate. And, oh yes, might he also look into the who and why of all these people unknown to John's family who were given sizable bequests in his will? For help, Laurence calls on his friend Charles--an Agatha Christie aficionado and one of those guys who knows everybody who's anybody. Before long a much broader mystery comes to the fore: Not only is John Emmett dead, but so too are some other members of his company who survived the war, all of whom had been assigned to the same army execution squad. Is there a connection? Could this "suicide" have been a murder?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Anyone who's read and enjoyed the novels of Charles Todd or Jacqueline Winspear (the post WW1 mystery series featuring, respectively, Ian Rutledge and Maisie Dobbs) is likely to be drawn to this debut mystery novel from Elizabeth Speller. Just don't succumb to "post WW1 fatigue" and avoid it on that basis: in many ways this novel (which feels like a stand-alone book rather than the beginning of a series, and is the better for it) offers the reader elements that the two series can't and don't.

Laurence Bartram, like so many other still-young men, is back from the trenches and their horrors, but only to find a very different kind of muted horror in postwar life -- the difficulty of adjusting to "normality". The only memory of his former life is the piano that his wife Louise once cherished; she and their infant son died on the same day he went "over the top" in a particularly memorable and horrifying attack. He struggles to find a life for himself, desultorily pondering a book about church architecture. Then the sister of a schoolfriend, John Emmett, seeks him out to request his help understanding why her brother has killed himself.

That's the starting point for the mystery, which rapidly turns into a compelling novel, transcending the mystery genre. True, in many ways this is a predictable story. There's a bluff sidekick, Charles (think Poirot's buddy, Hastings, with a bit more on the ball and in the little grey cells); a romantic interest, a cast of supporting characters who fulfill various predictable roles in the investigation and in Speller's portrait of postwar England. And yet... Speller handles these so well that even when one part of my brain was saying, yeah, I might have known this would happen, another part was saying "just keep reading!
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Audiophile on July 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
Outside of an interesting commentary about courts martial and the agony faced by soldiers forced to participate in a firing squad to execute members of their own military forces for desertion or cowardice, nothing recommends this book. The action consists of walking somewhere or knocking on a door, with the one-time thrill of riding in a car! However, the bulk of the book is one person or another blabbing for pages on end filling in the details of the victim's life, a guy that we could never really care about because he was dead from the start, and the only knowledge we have about him is lengthy passages droned on and on by other characters we don't care about because they have no other purpose but to provide information about the victim. This is what I call Oregon Trail writing. My daughter had a very primitive computer game called Oregon Trail where you want to get to California, but need to know stuff to get there, so you would click on a character and get a close-up drawing of this cliche character's face. The character then blabs on and on and on about what you theoretically need to know, but don't really care about, until you can't stand it any more and would rather die of cholera, starvation or a gunshot wound to the head than listen to the endless, theoretically entertaining, but truly horrendously boring, speech for one more minute. That's about how it works in this book.

Since I made it through the entire book, my policy is to give it two stars, unfortunately, I have another policy where I remove one star if the "who" that dunnit was never addressed or questioned as a viable suspect, and is basically pulled out of the author's butt, which is what happens in this case.
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