Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Return of Captain John Emmett - Elizabeth Speller

This was Speller's first book, and a good one too.  An amateur detective, some red herrings, and a friend who rates Mrs Christie (Agatha) highly was only part of the joy I discovered between the sadness of the story.  Laurence Bartram escaped death in WW1, and several years later finds himself with a lot of time on his hands, and a book to write.  A book about ancient churches of England.  The manuscript is not finished, and sits under a layer of dust in his small flat in London, whilst he stares out of the window, thinking about his past. A past which includes the death of his wife and child, bravery in the war, a book to write and somehow nothing to urge him on.   Until, that is, a letter from the sister of an old schoolfriend arrives, and he is asked to find out why that friend committed suicide.                                                                                                                                                    
When he gets to re-meet Mary Emmett she asks if he could possibly find out for her.  He remembers John Emmett fondly because of a great kindness when he was a young teen.  He remembers Mary Emmett from that time, and marvels that she is still the attractive woman he remembers from his teens.  He agrees to make a few enquiries and in modern parlance, that's when the can of worms is opened.  What he uncovers is a dreadful perversion of justice, much cruelty and a great deal of revenge.

There are descriptions of some of the horrors of war, but not such much the death and destruction caused by the battlefield, but a good deal about those soldiers "shot at dawn" - meaning that they were sentenced to death because of extreme cowardice or desertion.  In fact over 300 servicemen were executed in WW1, although over 3,000 death sentences were issued, most were commuted.  Only three officers suffered the same fate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This was a book I couldn't put down, and Speller has a lovely style.  Some good read herrings make the final reveal a bit of a gasper,  and it is then that all the loose ends are knitted together - including a rather shocking epilogue which must not be ignored.  And does Laurence get the girl?  for that is the side story in this book.  He is attracted, but does not think it seemly at first.  She seems to like him but there are mysteries about Mary.  You'll find out.