The Return of Captain John Emmett

Written by Elizabeth Speller
Review by Doug Kemp

London 1921. Laurence Bartram, widower and decorated army officer, is attempting to find a role for himself in post-War society by writing a study on London’s churches. His desultory efforts are disturbed when his receives a letter from the sister of a former school friend, Mary Emmett, whose brother is the eponymous Captain. John Emmett killed himself after suffering psychological problems following the end of the Great War, and Mary wants to know if Bartram is able to tell her more about her brother and his death. Laurence Bartram starts to investigate the matter and is quickly drawn into a complex and unpleasant tale of military incompetence, treachery, cowardice and revenge. He uncovers a series of murders related to the execution of a very young and junior army officer – the events which ultimately lead to the death of Captain Emmett and many others.

This is a well-plotted novel that is narrated with expertise and urges the reader on to uncover the truth. It is soaked with the sadness and unpleasantness of bereavement so prevalent as this time in Britain just after the end to the war. It is a moving, rather sad and sobering story; very capable historical fiction.